There is a wonderful Zen story about a monk—new to the monastery—who asks the master what he should do. The master asks if he’s eaten his rice. The new monk says yes, he has eaten. The master says, “Then wash your bowl.”
It was a story I heard growing up. It’s meant to be meditated on, but a simple lesson from it is to focus on the now and take care of each mess as you make it. What an honorable quest! What an admirable lifestyle!
Then there is me and my reality. Rather than the “dirty a bowl, wash a bowl” style, our family subscribes to the “let the sink collect dirty bowls until it’s overfull.” I love to cook and seem to use as many bowls as they do on cooking shows. My teenage son prefers to get a fresh dish for each bowl of cereal, and he’s been known to go through a box of cereal in a day.
If you do the math on our bowl use, you can see my spiritual aspiration is in conflict with my reality. We bought a new dishwasher this week.
It will free up at least a half-hour a day of washing. We will be glad to have the machine’s help. I hope I still wash by hand once in a while. It does me good.
My hands plunge in the warm, soapy water; I restore the dirty to clean. A mess of dishes becomes a rack of organized utensils. Cups stand proud next to one another. Forks mingle with spoons like a friendly cocktail hour. Plates look like railings on the deck, even and upright.
As I wash, I look at the sill above the sink. It is a three-inch altar. I keep my treasures there. I have a rock that says Love Much from my friend, B., a souvenir from a morning when we watched Who Does She Think She Is, a documentary on women artists. It reminds me to love much and be strong in my art!
Another rock on the sill from a summertime trip with my childhood friend, A., encourages, Shine!
The star of the sill is the aloe plant. My aloe was from a church member, C., who brings in batches of the babies to share with us at church. She was in a small group with Susie, the original grower of the aloe. Although Susie has gone to glory, her bright spirit, her generosity and her plants—Susie’s babies—live on through her friends. The plant now reminds me of friendship and how friendships thrive with close personal care just like plants. My aloe has outgrown its pot. It needs to be split and repotted. I will be able to pass on one of Susie’s babies.
Next to the green aloe stands the red Dala horse. My parents got it for me during their trip to the factory in Sweden. Similar to my live red horse outside the kitchen window, it cheers me up with its pert ears and neat style.
A crystal and a cross hang in the window. My mom always hung crystals in all her kitchens to make rainbows. When the sun shines, we have rainbows the size of thumbnails sprinkled through the kitchen.
A little kitschy—a lot fun—I recently added a little apron to our soap bottle. I’m happy to see that we don’t take our decor too seriously! Each time I use the soap, the well-dressed bottle charms me.
It can be a troubling world with intense pressures, needs from family members and news of shootings. You can make the places you frequent in your home into safe havens. Add reminders of people you love and say blessings for them. With visible reminders of faith, you can feel protected as you face daily tasks.
We can’t change our chores. We will eat and make dirty dishes, sometimes by the dozens! But we can change our space to amuse and support our spirit while we tackle our tasks.
As Brother Lawrence says, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
Lord, keep us in small ways: a cozy home
with all the comforts of ordinary days.
Let us remember a safe home
with nourishing meals and hot water
are bigger blessings that we realize.
When we see dirty dishes,
remind us you are with us in our daily chores and repeated tasks.
You reveal what is real in soapy water and kitchen sink meditations.
Do you have a place where you already feel peaceful and protected? Where else in your home—maybe the laundry room or a bathroom sink—could be a place to add reminders to pray or praise God? Which items can you find that would link you to happy memories or positive relationships? What would bring you a smile?
Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered in a drawing to win one of my handmade soap bottle aprons! I will draw on Friday (Jan. 17, 2014) afternoon. Good luck! 😀
***Thanks to everybody who left a comment! I appreciated reading them all. This contest has concluded. I’ve tagged the winner in the comments below!***