Days pass when I forget the mystery. Problems insoluble and problems offering their own ignored solutions jostle for my attention… And then once more the quiet mystery is present to me, the throng’s clamor recedes: the mystery that there is anything, anything at all, let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything, rather than void: and that, O Lord, Creator, Hallowed one, You still, hour by hour sustain it. ~Denise Levertov from “Primary Wonder” from Sands of the Well
Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw upon itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom. ~N.T. Wright from The Crown and The Fire
Inundated by the constantly bad news of the world, I must cling to the mystery of His magnetism for my own weaknesses and flaws, my bitterness. He willingly pulls evil onto Himself, out of us. Hatred and pain and shame and anger disappear into the vortex of His love and beauty, the mucky corners of my heart vacuumed spotless.
We are let in on a secret: He is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes of our lives. He is sustaining us; we are anything rather than void.
Created in His image, sustained and loved, thus reflecting Him, we are washed forever clean.
Settling into the straw, I am grateful for a quiet moment after a 12 hour workday followed by all the requisite personal conversations that help mop up the spills and splatters of every day life. My family verbally unloads their day like so much stored up laundry needing to be washed and rinsed with the spin cycle completed before tomorrow dawns. I move from child to child to child to husband to grandmother, hoping to help each one clean, dry, fold and sort everything in their pile, including finding and marrying each stray sock with its partner.
Not to be outdone, I pile up a little dirty laundry of my own as I complain about my day as well. My own socks are covered in burrs and stickers and resist matching.
I’m on “spent” cycle so I retreat to the barn where communication is less demanding and requires more than just my ears and vocal cords. Complaints are meaningless here and so are unmarried socks.
In this place a new foal and his vigilant mama watch my every move.
This colt is intrigued by my intrusion into his 12′ x 24′ world. His mother is annoyed. He comes over to sniff my foot and his mother swiftly moves him away with a quick swing of her hips, daunting me with the closeness of her heels. Her first instinct insists she separate me from him and bar my access. My mandate is to woo her over. I could bribe her with food, but, no, that is too easy.
A curry comb is best. If nothing else will work, a good scratching always does. Standing up, I start peeling sheets of no longer needed winter hair off her neck, her sides, her flank and hindquarter. She relaxes in response to my efforts, giving her baby a body rub with her muzzle, wiggling her lips all up and down from his back to his tummy. He is delighted with this spontaneous mommy massage and leans into her, moving around so his hind end is under her mouth and his front end is facing me. Then he starts giving his own version of a massage too, wiggling his muzzle over my coat sleeve and wondrously closing this little therapeutic triangle.
Here we are, a tight little knot of givers/receivers with horse hair flying in a cloud about us. One weary human, one protective mama mare and one day-old foal, who is learning so young how to contribute to the well being of others.
Given over to love, to do it always and well.
It is an incredible gift of trust bestowed on me like a blessing. I realize this horse family is helping me sort my own laundry in the same way I help with my human family’s load.
Too often in life we find ourselves in painful triangles, passing our kicks and bites down the line to each other rather than providing needed relief and respite. We find ourselves unable to wrench free from continuing to deliver the hurts we’ve just received. What strength it takes to respond with kindness when the kick has just landed on our backside. How chastened we feel when a kindness is directed at us, as undeserving as we are after having bitten someone hard.
Instead of biting, try massaging. Instead of kicking, try tickling. Instead of fear, try acceptance. Instead of annoyance, try patience. Instead of piling up so much dirty laundry of your own, try washing, folding and sorting what is given to you by others, handing it back all clean, smelling better and ready for the next day.
And even if the socks don’t match exactly, marry them anyway. Just give them over to love.
She rarely made us do it—we’d clear the table instead— so my sister and I teased that some day we’d train our children right and not end up like her, after every meal stuck with red knuckles, a bleached rag to wipe and wring. The one chore she spared us: gummy plates in water greasy and swirling with sloughed peas, globs of egg and gravy. Or did she guard her place at the window? Not wanting to give up the gloss of the magnolia, the school traffic humming. Sunset, finches at the feeder. First sightings of the mail truck at the curb, just after noon, delivering a note, a card, the least bit of news. ~Susan Meyers “Mother, Washing Dishes”
My thoughts went round and round and it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the ‘stream of consciousness’ type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink.
….I had to admit that nobody had compelled me to wash these dishes or to tidy this kitchen. It was the fussy spinster in me, the Martha who could not comfortably sit and make conversation when she knew that yesterday’s unwashed dishes were still in the sink. ~Barbara Pym from Excellent Women
Even the mundane task of washing dishes by hand is an example of the small tasks and personal activities that once filled people’s daily lives with a sense of achievement. ~B.F. Skinner, behavioral psychologist
I trace the faltering American family to the invention of the automatic dishwasher.
What ever has happened to the human dishwasher with two hands full of wash cloth and scrubber, alongside a dish dryer armed with a towel?
Where is the list on the refrigerator of whose turn is next, and the accountability if a family member somehow shirks their washing/drying responsibility and leaves the dishes to the next day?
No longer do family members have to cooperate to scrub clean glasses, dishes and utensils, put them in the dish rack, dry them one by one and place them in the cupboard where they belong. If the washer isn’t doing a proper job, the dryer immediately takes note and recycles the dirty dish right back to the sink. Instant accountability. I always preferred to be the dryer. If I washed, and my sister dried, we’d never get done. She would keep recycling the dishes back for another going-over. My messy nature exposed.
The family conversations started over a meal often continue over the clean-up process while concentrating on whether a smudge is permanent or not. I learned some important facts of life while washing and drying dishes that I might not have learned otherwise. Sensitive topics tend to be easier to discuss when elbow deep in soap suds. Spelling and vocabulary and math fact drills are more effective when the penalty for a missed word is a snap on the butt with a dish towel.
Modern society is missing the best opportunity for three times a day family-together time. Forget family “game” night, or parental “date” night, or even vacations. Dish washing and drying at the sink takes care of all those times when families need to be communicating and cooperating.
It is time to treat the automatic dishwasher as simply another storage cupboard and instead pull out the brillo pads, the white cotton dishtowels and the plastic dishrack.
Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw on to itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means, chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom. ~N.T. Wright from The Crown and the Fire
Inundated by overwhelmingly bad news of the world,
blasted 24/7 from cable TV,
highlighted in rapidly changing headlines online,
tweeted real time to our pocket phones from every nook and cranny~
We cling to the mystery of His magnetism for our weaknesses and flaws.
He willingly pulls our evil onto Himself and out of us.
Hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness
disappear into the vortex of His love and beauty,
the dusty corners of our hearts vacuumed spotless.
We are let in on a secret, the mystery revealed:
He is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes of our lives.
Instead, once we are safely within His depths, He washes us forever clean.
It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work.
Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall,
driving horses, sweeping, scouring,
everything gives God some glory if being in his grace
you do it as your duty.
To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives him glory too. To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dung fork in his hand,
a woman with a slop pail,
give him glory too.
He is so great that all things give him glory
if you mean they should. So then, my brethren, live.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins fromSeeking Peace
Thanks in large part to how messy we humans are, this world is a grimy place. As an act of worship, we must keep cleaning up after ourselves. The hands that clean the toilets, scrub the floors, carry the bedpans, pick up the garbage might as well be clasped in prayer–it is in such mundane tasks God is glorified.
I spend over an hour every day year round through all seasons and weather, carrying dirty buckets and wielding a pitchfork and moving manure down this barnyard lane because it is my way of restoring order to the disorder inherent in human life. It is with gratitude that I’m able to pick up one little corner of my world, making stall beds tidier for our farm animals by mucking up their messes.
In so doing, I’m cleaning up a piece of me at the same time.
I never want to forget the mess I’m in and the mess I am. I never want to forget to clean up after myself. I never want to feel it is a mere and mundane chore to worship our God with dungfork and slop pail and wheelbarrow.
It is my privilege. It is His gift to me.
It is Grace that comes alongside me, helping me to live out each day, pitching the muck and carrying the slop and making me clean again – spring, summer, fall and winter.
You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing you are worth profound care, even when you are dirty and rattled. Who knew? ~Anne Lamott from Small Victories
As a farmer, I spend at least a part of every day muddy and up to my elbows in muck. I call my barn life “the real stuff” when the rest of my day is spent dealing with “virtual stuff ” which leaves me dirty and rattled nonetheless. I prefer the real over virtual muck although it smells worse, leaves my fingernails hopelessly grimy and is obvious to everyone where I’ve been.
The stains of the rest of my day are largely invisible to all but me and far harder to scrub away.
It is so much easier to deal with the barnyard over bureaucracy; what soils us can be washed off and we’re restored for another day of wallowing in our muck boots. On the farm is the grace of drawing up clean warm water, soaping with the suds that truly cleanse, a sinking down into a deep tub of renewal.
God knows well what a washing we need.
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