Friday, May 2, 2008

A Noble Chore...

"On every level of life from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgments and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure signs of the amateur." (Evelyn Underhill)

I had no idea I was on the leading edge of hipness when it came to household chores! Anyone who has known me for long, knows that I never use a dishwasher, even on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I wash all of my dishes by hand, at the sink, in soapy water (my favorite suds are created by Mrs. Myers dishwashing liquids, by the way). I don't know why I like hand-washing dishes. I'm not doing it for reasons of principle. I suppose I just like taking my time. I like looking out the window. I like the time doing this allows me to relax and think (if I'll slow down, settle in to the task, and let myself unwind). It's very good for the soul!

And now Saveur magazine's cool, annual top 100 list of "foods, restaurants, drinks, people, place, and things," has finally given hand-washing dishes its due:

"The table has been cleared, and the last of your dinner guests has been ushered out into the night. The previous days' tumult of planning, shopping, and cooking has yielded another evening to remember-- and a sink full of sauce-smeared plates and grease-smudged stemware. In the postprandial hush, you calmly take stock of the task at hand and begin your labor. Working unhurriedly from the top of the pile, your hands gripping the soapy sponge, you work rhythmically as your body warms to the task and your mind, stoked by food and conversation, quiets itself. Call us old-fashioned, ascetic, or even slightly masochistic, but there's something about hand-washing dishes that we find, well cleansing." (by David Sax)

In The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women's Work, Kathleen Norris explains how housework provides a perfect opportunity for spiritual depth and transformation:

"It is a paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation. Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but. At its Latin root, perfunctory' means 'to get through with,' and we can easily see how liturgy, laundry, and what was traditionally been conceived of as 'women's work' can be done in that indifferent spirit. But the joke is on us, and what we think we are only 'getting through' has the power to change us, just as we have the power to transform what seems meaningless-- the endless repetitions of a litany or the motions of vacuuming a floor. What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit..."