We recently watched again the video of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's 1983 movie Fanny and Alexander, mostly because we love that wonder-filled scene in the beginning when a large Swedish family parades around a beautifully decorated house on Christmas Eve.

The epiphany in the film, however, came near the end. The family has gone through a death and, for the children Fanny and Alexander and their mother, a terrible separation from the rest of the clan. When they are back together in the big house, one of the elders makes an impassioned plea to the young members of his family: "We must live in the little, the little world. We should be content with that and cultivate it and make the best of it. It is necessary and not in the least shameful, to take pleasure in good food, gentle smiles, fruit trees in bloom, waltzes."

What does it mean, we asked ourselves as we put away the video, to "live in the little"? We decided to make this a spiritual practice and share our findings at the end of a day. Taking a clue from the quote, we realized that we would need to pay particular attention to our senses. Here is part of our conversation at the end of the day.

Fred: I got up and looked out our south windows. Light was already filling the sky, as it does every day. This morning I recalled that the poet William Blake once said that when he witnessed the rising of the sun, he didn't just see a glowing disc of fire but a host of angels singing "Holy, Holy, Holy."

My first chore of the day was to clean the cats' litter boxes. I do not have a very keen sense of smell, so this is not too unpleasant for me. What I enjoy is watching the cats trot over to survey my work and feeling them brush against my legs to say thank you. It's a little thing but it helps me maintain a relationship with these beings.

Even with my stunted sense of smell, I still enjoyed the aroma of a candle as I settled in for some early morning reading. Edward Hays, a favorite Christian writer, explained to me how Jesus demonstrates "mustard seed vision" — the ability to see that everything rests on the small.

Mary Ann: I can identify with that. One of my favorite saints is Therese of Lisieux (1873 - 1897), who practiced the "little way," as she called it. This ardent young woman was convinced that "trifles" please God. So she put all of her love, effort, and devotion into doing the most simple chores of her monastic life — scrubbing the floors or washing the dishes.

Remembering her example this morning, I resolved to clean some of the little spaces that I can easily overlook, such as the ventilation grate at the bottom of the refrigerator. Then there is the corner behind the container where we store cans for recyling. It seems to attract dust and spider webs and who knows what else. I got down on my hands and knees to look very closely at this little scene. A spider web, I decided, is an engineering wonder.

I can really appreciate the little at work. Most days I post some new pages on the website. The "html" coding that enables these Internet pages to be read anywhere in the world is very unforgiving of mistakes. If I leave out an opening bracket or a closing quotation mark, the links don't work and perhaps a whole paragraph doesn't show up. This is a constant reminder to me that details do count; no matter how insignificant an action might appear, it can have far-reaching consequences.

Fred: So we're back to the mustard seed. The details of our activities, the details of our relationships, are like them. They may seem small at the time, but they have the potential to grow into something much larger. Which reminds me of something else I read, from Mother Teresa: "In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love."