God of the dishes

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Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me.

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure;

wash me, make me whiter than snow.

A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.

Psalm 51: 4, 9, 12

Dirty dishes stacked so high,
porcelain towers on my right and left.
I take the sponge in hand,
wring out the water, squeeze on soap,
and crank the faucet hot.
Steam rises as the stream heats, steady
I plunge plates and cups
into the bubbles swirled below.
Swish, wash, rinse, repeat;
the stack grows smaller as I go,
plates now neat and nestled
drying silent in the rack.
My hands turn pink and bright in sink's hot bath;
my fingers pruned and white by end of night.

Long ago I ate alone:
the solitary rinse of single
spoon and knife and fork.
These days I’m elbow deep in pans,
scrubbing steel pots ringed
thick with soup, browned casseroles
of dinners passed with family, friends
all those who gather for my meals.

Cynics see the stubborn cycle
of the grimy, gooey junk
caked hard on dishes left to sit too long
(pardon my love of lingering one last glass)
as dirty proof of life’s depressing rut:
the endless drag of meals and mouths to feed,
a plate’s only escape the break
that sends it swiftly to the bin.

But I delight in dishes,
love the dirty and the clean:
how they slide in slippery hands
before I scrub in circles swift,
how they flash with water’s drip
each time I lift them up to rise,
inspecting both sides slick and sheen,
then dry them satisfied.

For dishes prove that someone shared the meal,
that there was food to pass,
safe time to spare.
Companions, plenty and a pause
are no small good
in world of loneliness, 
want, rush and fear.
And if I'd none to wash,
that would mean no one took the cup.
What a tidy, terrible mistake
that empty would have been.
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3 thoughts on “God of the dishes

    Lauren L. said:
    November 15, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Oh, wonderful. I love doing the dishes. It’s one of my favorite chores. And, really, it isn’t a chore for me. When I was in college, one of my professors talked to us about contemplative life. He told us of a mystic (Merton, perhaps) who said that to be a contemplative, you must be present to where you are. This mystic said, “When you’re doing the dishes, do the dishes.” I think of that often when I turn on the faucet and make clean what was dirty.

    This line gave me pause: “drying silent in the rack.” With the parallel to Psalm 51, this is profound. Once we are washed clean, our hearts and minds cleansed of our sin and guilt, do we sit silent with that for a while? Do we let the holiness of that event soak into us, evaporate beyond us, drip off of us? In what ways do I need to dry silently?

    […] Washing dishes is a dreaded household chore for me, so I need a nudge to see the prayer in this necessary work. I remember all the plates that have been washed so that I could eat – in restaurants or cafeterias or homes that welcomed me as a guest. And I load the dishwasher with a lighter heart, grateful for a kitchen full of food to eat and hungry children around my table. I re-member myself back into the faith that breaks bread and shares with the hungry. […]

    a round-up of labor day thoughts | mothering spirit said:
    September 2, 2013 at 9:46 am

    […] how God works, too: baking, sweeping, washing, gathering, or […]

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