Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Washing Dishes...and Worship

A few days ago, I shared one of my favorite sections from The Pace of a Hen (Josephine Moffett Benton, 1961). There Ms. Benton described an accepting attitude toward our responsibilities that lightens their burden. These two little anecdotes are from that section, and they have always been meaningful to me:

Casual remarks are often so much more character-forming than all our carefully thought-out speeches. How deeply we need to be good and whole and honest. I can still see the country kitchen, the brown patterned ironstone ware, and the old aunt who said to the do-less little girl beside her, “I like to wash dishes.” No sermon was preached, but those five words summed up a not-to-be-despised way of life.

I used to ask the busy mother of six young children, “Don’t you get awfully tired and find you need to rest in the afternoon?” Because her work was the expression of her deep love, and because she had an inner rest so many of us know nothing of—“In Him I live and move and have my being”—she could answer, “Oh, I keep going, and I get my second wind.”

I think these pictures are helpful because we know we're not supposed to complain, but we honestly don't know sometimes what to think or say if it's not complaining! To find one task that we can honestly say of it, "I like to do that," can begin to change our whole mindset. Though I used to enjoy it more when there wasn't so much of it, I actually enjoy doing laundry--I like turning smelly hampers full of damp clothes into clean, neatly folded piles. (We won't discuss putting the laundry away.) I wonder if one reason I like laundry is that, when I was in high school, my dad once confided in me that he finds laundry a satisfying job! Now, what attitudes about work am I passing on to my kids?

I can relate to the busy mother of six, too, who says she just keeps going, and she gets her second wind--me too. It's nice to think that that second wind can come from a place of "deep love", of "inner rest" that has nothing to do with how much sleep I've had or haven't had!

(I'll go out on a limb here too, and say that I think Mental-Multivitamin is preaching the same message when she says of homeschooling--and of life: "It's. Just. Not. That. Hard." Benton's version is: "…whether [work] is hard or easy depends upon a woman’s feeling about the multitudinous, monotonous tasks that confront her each day...Work does not wear us out, but an emotional jag of feeling abused and overburdened very quickly produces a “cumbered Martha.” They're both saying that you can choose your attitude. That's also the point of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning...but that's another post.)

Ms. Benton goes even further, then, to say that our work can be worship:

When all work is done to the glory of God, Martha learns from Mary the blessed sacrament of the present moment.

If one feels this sacramental quality in daily living every piece of work can become a consecrated act. It is not too difficult to pray on one’s knees as a floor is scrubbed, “Wash me, O Lord, as I wash this floor, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Awakening from sleep can be woven into a beginning prayer for the day: “As I stretch my body and limber my joints for the day’s tasks, thou O Lord, make my spirit supple and ready to accept whatever the day may bring.” Again, a prayer of thanksgiving for the first refreshing cold water of the morning: “As this water cleanses the sleep from my eyes, cleanse thou the sins of selfishness and pride and fear from myt being. Pour upon me the water of life.” And then in the act of dressing: “Clothe me in the garments of righteousness.” Prayers so brief can run through all the day’s activities. They can be simple, symbolic, spontaneous, based upon the needs and acts of the day.

…Certainly, Mother Currier made the preparation of food a sacrament. “My children came home bringing other relatives and I did everything alone and became neither fussed nor tired. My secret feeling about preparing a Thanksgiving feast is that it should all be done in a spirit of worship. It isn’t stuffing a turkey and peeling onions, and washing celery; it is preparing food to place before people to remind them of all their unearned blessings on this day. Then there’s a high joy in having the food my strength and care have produced become a source of strength to those I love. In that way—a mystical thing perhaps—I become part of them.”

Another writer who has delved this idea of work as worship is Kathleen Norris, in her book The Quotidian Mysteries (1998), which Papa Rooster gave to me soon after it came out. I read The Pace of a Hen a year or two later, and found that Norris and Moffatt were saying many of the same things to women--though separated by 37 years and huge cultural shifts during that time.
For more from Norris, see here and here. (Highly recommended; inspiring reading.)


Jennifer said...

wow, you always give me something deep to think about. I will be chewing on this in the back of my mind today as I go through the routines of homeschool, laundry, cleaning up. thanks for sharing- I feel like I have had vitamins for the brain now.
blessings to you today,
Jenny in Ca

Anonymous said...

Very good points! Complaining can be such second nature to me...and takes a lot more energy than actually doing something to gain ground on the situation.

Jen in Seattle

Wendy WaterBirde said...

I really apreciated this post, as well as the others you have in this sacred-in-the-mundane vien. I think it really goes to the heart of things : )

Islandsparrow said...

Good things to think about and practise! You know what I find about complaining? even inward, silent complaining? It actually drains you of energy, whereas finding the sacred and giving thanks in everything, energizes you. Thanks for the Norris recommendation - I haven't read that one yet.