Tuesday, November 14, 2006The Redemptive Work of Laundry
For some folks, laundry is a grueling task. For others, it's a delightful one. For everyone, it's a time-consuming, never-ending task. I have to admit that I find a lot of joy in doing laundry. Just as I delight in turning a dirty kitchen into a clean one, I also delight in the freshness of clean laundry, no matter how constant a task it is. There are many household tasks such as laundry: dishes, sweeping, picking up after toddlers, you name it. I know many folks out there who could die thinking of all these tasks. These tasks are the dread of some, the joy of others. They can be grueling and miserable, leading some of us almost to despair. However, as with anything that is painful, hard and grueling, there is a redeeming aspect to it. Christ, I'm sure, wants us to take those particular tasks which we so dread and make them the most glorious. He is the Lord who takes something wretched, like sin for example, and maks it beautiful. He will come to us through the most grueling of tasks if we open ourselves up to the graces He has for us within them. Just think: You could become a Saint and save souls by learning to do those most tedious of tasks well, with great love. It doesn't happen overnight though. It takes much prayer, patience and discipline.
Ironing was the task I dreaded the most, at one time in my life. I hated and despised it with a passion! Yet when I arrived at Madonna House and was put to work in the laundry room, of all places, I learned to love it and offer it up. (I perfected it, too! I can iron better than I ever thought I'd be able.) I learned this because the work was there, day after day, for 2 weeks straight. There was no going around it, unless I wanted to leave the place. I ironed shirts and pants, shirts and pants... porobably at least 25 articles of clothing/day. It was awful at first but slowly I came to love the steam, the smell of a fresh, crisp shirt and the disappearing wrinkles. I learned to pray as I worked. I was taught to pray for the person who's shirt I was ironing. This now is perfect for motherhood... I am given the opportunity to pray for my husband every time I iron his shirts. I also began to meditatively think about the work I was doing. Through the steam and the press, the wrinkles disappeared... and the fabric looked as good as new! How similar that is to ourselves and what happens with grace in our souls. My thoughts/meditations were many.
There is a book out there titled The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris. My husband gave it to me one day and said he thought it looked like a fitting book for me and one I'd enjoy reading. He was right on.
"The 'women's work' in the title can refer to any daily chore that leads to boredom, frustration, or despair-- whether housecleaning or mindless office work. Norris shows how such work can ground us in the world without grinding us down, how it has an incarnational reality that sanctifies everyday life." (from a review on Powell's site.)
Here are a few passages from the book that struck me:
"The comfortable lies we tell ourselves... that daily personal and household chores are of no significance to us spiritually- are exposed to falsehoods when we consider that reluctance to care for the body is one of the first symptoms of extreme melancholia. Shampooing the hair, washing the body, brushing our teeth, drinking enough water, taking as daily vitamin, going for a walk, as simple as they seem, are acts of self-respect."
"During the unspeakably brutal winter... with nearly thirty inches of snow on the ground by Thanksgiving, I had had enough by the time the Spring blizzards came- another three feet of snow and high winds... that I set out one morning, ablaze with the wrmth of an angry determination, to shovel a path to the clothesline in order to hang something colorful there. As I began to handle the wet clothes, my hands quickly reddened, stung with cold, but it seemed worth doing nonetheless, simply to break the hold of winter on my spirit- and to disrupt the monotony of the white moonscape that our backyard had become. And even though the clothes freeze-dried stiffly and had to be thawed in the house, they had the sky-scent of summer on them. And it helped."
"Like liturgy, the work of cleaning draws much of it's meaningand value from repetition, from the fact that it is never completed, but only set aside until the next day. Both liturgy and what is euphomistically termed 'domestic' work also have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day."
~Sia, Vancouver, WA