How to Wash the Dishes

In last week’s post, we explored what I call a kitchen sink spirituality. Can we find a worthwhile practice in the mundane task of washing the dishes? What can it teach us? We looked at three references to a spirituality of dishwashing.

There is a fourth reference I’d like to explore today.

dishesOn his website, author Jim Forest tells a story about his friend, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. One evening at a dinner party, Forest was annoyed at the pile of dishes he was stuck washing while everyone else was having a great conversation in the other room. Sensing his annoyance, Nhat Hanh told him, “You should wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” Forest was puzzled. Then his friend advised him to “wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.”

I’m really drawn to Nhat Hanh’s response. When I first read it, I was immediately transported to the Middle Ages, my favorite time period. Nhat Hanh may have meant to impart advice on mindfulness, but he sounds just like a medieval devotional master.

In the late Middle Ages, many devotional texts invited their readers to experience the humanity of Jesus in a new and startling way. Their goal was to foster an experience of intimacy with the savior. The Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony (14th c.), for example, asks lay Christians to imagine holding and caring for the baby Jesus:

Kiss the beautiful little feet of the infant Jesus who lies in the manger and beg his mother to let you hold him a while.

And later:

[T]he holy Virgin, following the law that had been established, left the city of Bethlehem with Joseph and the infant Jesus to go to Jerusalem, five miles distant, to present Our Lord in the temple. You go, too, in their company, and help them carry the child.

I never fail to be moved by the tenderness of this invitation. Ludolph asks his readers not just to meditate on Jesus, not just to think about him or rehearse the events in his life. He invites every person to enter into Jesus’ life. This reverses the way we usually approach Jesus. Instead of asking our Lord to help us, we help care for him. We kiss and hold and carry his infant self. For a moment, we are his mother.

I’m fascinated by the way a contemporary Buddhist monk channels this text. I doubt that Nhat Hanh meant to get medieval on us, but he did–-and together with Ludolph of Saxony, his advice helps to transform a small part of our daily life. Hold the infant Jesus a while. Wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.

Doing the dishes can make me so angry. I’m tired at the end of the day. I see the piles of dirty plates, not all of which will fit into the dishwasher, and I simply don’t want to wash them. But how could I be angry washing the baby Jesus? How could I refuse an invitation to take him into my arms?

I need this kind of spirituality, one in which tenderness and imagination melt away my frustration. One in which Jesus becomes startlingly present in my life. What, after all, could be more startling than suddenly seeing Jesus in your kitchen sink? It’s the jolt needed to restart and soothe my troubled heart.

If henceforth my family sees me weeping at the sink after dinner, it will be because I hold not only dishes, but also the infant savior.

Dishwashing as a spiritual discipline? Surely so. One that I practice each day. One that brings me to Jesus. One that washes me of anger even as I wash the dishes clean.

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: St. Teresa of Avila

This week’s prayer is more of a meditation or a loving admonition. It comes from St. Teresa of Ávila (1515 – 1582), Carmelite nun and mystic, whose Feast Day is today (October 15).

 

Teresa of Avila

*****

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing upset you.
Everything changes.
God alone is unchanging.
With patience all things are possible.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.

(Source)

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Thank you for joining us for Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up our favorite links related to prayer, spirituality, and writing. We hope it will enrich your life and help you to find the best the web has to offer.

Read, enjoy, and be blessed.

***

We Are Free to Learn Slow by Tasha Jun (a beautifully liberating message — we are free to move at the pace God has given us)

How to Stop Work From Taking Over Your Life by Sheridan Voysey (discover “sacred inefficiency” and why your weekend is about more than recharging for the week ahead)

A Prayer for Those Who Feel Awkward in Social Situations via Douglas Kaine McKelvey (Who me? I don’t need this prayer. *Runs and hides*)

A Rough and Ready Primer on Traditional Publishing via Andi Cumbo-Floyd (helpful info for writers wanting to go the traditional publishing route)

Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper via Nature (his advice is transferable to other subjects– and, well, it’s Cormac McCarthy)

“Emergency Poet” opens literary “pharmacy” to support mental wellbeing via Keele University (literary “first aid” as a way of bringing the therapeutic benefits of poetry to the local community. “Yes” to more poetry!)

 

Kitchen Sink Spirituality

Sink. Soap. Suds. Plates. Pots. Pans. And . . . prayer?

Washing the dishes isn’t included in the big books on spiritual disciplines—not in Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline nor Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, which describes a whopping 62 disciplines.

But maybe it should be.

DishesIn recent months I’ve come across no fewer than four references to people who have made doing the dishes into a discipline of sorts. Four! That can’t be a fluke. Is there something about dishwashing—other than its obvious need to be done—that recommends it to Christians today?

Let’s take a look at what people are saying about the dishes. Today we’ll explore three of the references I found. I’m saving the fourth (my favorite one) for next week.

Christine Berghoef gets poetic about dishwashing in a post at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation:

In the predictable rhythm of liquid warmth swirling through my washcloth as I swab away remnants of the day’s nourishment, the liltingly light splash of the faucet rinsing the suds, and the movement from rinse to dry rack, I am soothed. Unwound. Almost tranquilized. It forces me to pause, to ruminate over the events of the day, to be still.

In Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (IVP Books, 2013), Andy Crouch, describes the small discipline of doing the dishes as an exercise in humility. Tackling the crockery before he leaves for a speaking engagement, he says, helps him to limit “my own exercise of godlike freedom and significance” (pp. 241-242).

Finally, Tish Warren mentions dishwashing in her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. The disciplines needed to sustain our spiritual life, Warren says, are often quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. This may be counter-intuitive, but it’s how growth occurs:

I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows (35-36).

I love all three of these! Each brings to the fore a different spiritual benefit of doing the dishes:

  • being still
  • being humble
  • finding Jesus in the mundane

Given my natural approach to life, I need all of these benefits. I tend to get frustrated by daily chores. As I wrote in a previous post, I believe that I should be doing something more “exalted” with my time. And that means I need a good dose of humility. It also means that I need a reminder of Jesus’ presence. He is there, even (or maybe especially) in the mundane tasks of the day. These tasks show care for my family and slow me down enough to be present in the little moments of my life.

Which means that I may need fewer mountain-top experiences and more mountains of dishes. A kitchen sink spirituality.

What about you? Where do you need to see Jesus reaching into the mess of your daily life?

 

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer before writing or studying from St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274):

*****

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
have established three hierarchies of angels,
have arrayed them in marvelous order
above the fiery heavens
and have marshaled the regions
of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high above all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul
the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

(Source)

 

Friday Favorites for Prayer and Writing

Thank you for joining us for Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up our favorite links related to prayer, spirituality, and writing. We hope it will enrich your life and help you to find the best the web has to offer.

Read, enjoy, and be blessed.

***

The Lord is My Everything: Psalm 23 in the Letter E via April Yamasaki (a paraphrase of a beloved psalm focused on the letter E… and other versions with different letters of the alphabet; what a neat exercise!)

How do we say goodbye? via The Red Hand Files (on regret, the past, and the privilege of saying goodbye)

Place and Pilgrimage via Lisa Colón DeLay (on this Spark My Muse podcast episode, Lisa and I talk about the resurgence of pilgrimage and a special event we’re planning for June 2020)

The Wonder Years Gathering (heads-up on two conferences in 2020 focusing on Christian spiritual formation for midlife women)

Self-Help for Fellow Refugees via Li-Young Lee (heart-stopping poetry)

The Hyphen Affair via Seth Maxon (why grammar nerds keep getting so furious with the Associated Press)

7 Common Mistakes in First-Time Memoir via Jessi Rita Hoffman (writing advice from a developmental book editor)

 

Come on Retreat with The Contemplative Writer

A few days ago, a friend of mind wrote: “Without care of the soul, we suffer under the weight of our calling or become smothered in the banal. Spiritual rejuvenation takes many forms but it is not a luxury OR optional.”

Those words ring true to me. Soul care is not optional. It keeps us going, renews us, returns us to ourselves, and above all helps us experience the care of our Creator.

Spiritual practices help us care for our soul — fixed-hour prayer, contemplative prayer, spiritual direction, and lectio divina, for example. When we engage in one of these practices, the goal is to clear the way for God to work in us. As the author of the Cloud of Unknowing said, “In the work of contemplation, God stirs our souls. His grace is the principal worker in us.” It’s God, not us.

I find valuable resources in the contemplatives and mystics of contemplative history who tell us about these practices. And I have another resource I’d like to tell you about today.

I’ve teamed up with a soul friend to host a spiritual retreat! We’re excited to offer this to you. The retreat will take place June 5 – 7, 2020 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here’s a brief description:

Sacred Spaces is the first annual destination retreat created and hosted by Lisa Deam, Ph.D. and Lisa Colón Delay, a top-ranked spirituality podcaster and writer. In the high desert of New Mexico, we’ll gather to recharge our soul. We’ll enjoy a time of rest, contemplation, and spiritual practices.

We’ll specifically be focusing on the practice of pilgrimage, which is experiencing a worldwide resurgence today. A highlight of the retreat will be a visit to the local pilgrimage site of Chimayo, New Mexico.

Our schedule for the retreat is spacious. We want to welcome you and provide time for you to rest, recharge, grow, and journey with friends old and new. The New Mexico landscape is an ideal place for retreat and contemplation since it has a spiritual potency of its own.

Soul care is important, so I hope you’ll prayerfully consider joining us on this retreat. If you can’t make it yourself, you can donate so that someone else can.

There are two ways to get more information on the Sacred Spaces retreat. You can sign up to get updates on the retreat’s landing page.

And you can go to EventBrite for a wealth of information and to purchase your tickets. (Note: EventBrite is down or experiencing some technical difficulties. If the link doesn’t take you there right now, please try again later!)

From now until the end of October, we have a reduced rate on tickets. It’s a really good deal — it includes the event program, pilgrimage visit, two nights lodging, and four meals. Take a look.

Please join us on a pilgrimage of the heart.

Announcement and details of Sacred Spaces Destination Retreat June 2020 from Lisa Colón DeLay on Vimeo.

WEEKLY PRAYER: FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Our prayer this week is The Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226). Francis’s Feast Day is October 4.

Francis’s hymn celebrates all of God’s creation. In Franciscan theology, contemplation and worship frequently begin with the goodness of the material world before delving inward, on the path of the spirit.

 

Giovanni_Bellini_-_Saint_Francis_in_the_Desert_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Most high, all powerful, sweet Lord,
yours is the praise, the glory, and the honor
and every blessing.

Be praised, my Lord,
for all your creatures,
and first for brother sun,
who makes the day bright and luminous.

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
he is the image of you, Most High.

Be praised, my Lord,
for sister moon and the stars,
in the sky you have made them brilliant and precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother wind,
and for the air both cloudy and serene and every kind of weather,
through which you give nourishment to your creatures.

Be praised, my Lord, for sister water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother fire,
through whom you illuminate the night.
And he is beautiful, and joyous, and robust, and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, mother earth,
who nourishes us and watches over us,
and brings forth various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive through Your love,
and bear sickness and tribulation;
blessed are those who endure in peace,
for they will be crowned by you, Most High.

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, bodily death,
from whom no living thing can escape.

Blessed are those whom she finds doing your holy will,
for the second death cannot harm them.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give thanks to Him and serve Him with great humility.

(Source)

Friday Favorites for Prayer and Writing

Welcome to Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up links that really struck us and that we’d like to share with you. We hope they will add to your writing and spiritual life. Without further ado…

Prasanta’s picks —

Postmarked via Shawn Smucker and Jen Pollock Michel (it began as a Twitter conversation but developed into a series of letters between two writers, navigating the terrain of creative work and family life)

How to Write Compelling Articles That Get Read and Shared via Nicole Bianchi (5 steps to crafting compelling articles)

“Birthday Poem for Roma Cady MacPherson Wilson 2 January 2019, aetatis suae XV” via Anthony Madrid (a stunning poem in Curator Magazine)

***

Lisa’s picks —

Rhythms That Return Us to Ourselves via Marlena Graves (returning to “our senses,” or to the rhythms that once sustained and can still sustain us)

On Feeling Afraid and Finding the Edge via Kelly Chripczuk (on the subtle sway of fear)

Year of Pilgrimage – to be a pilgrim in Britain’s Green and Pleasant Land via Bess Twiston Davies (the year 2020 has been decreed the “Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimages” by the Association of English Cathedrals. Read about the continuing popularity of the practice of pilgrimage!)

 

 

 

 

 

Long Night of Struggle: A Post via Prasanta Verma

Today’s post is by Prasanta Verma, a member of The Contemplative Writer team.

***

“It is clear we must embrace struggle. Every living thing conforms to it. Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance. We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us.” – Rainer Marie Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet

No one can see the internal dialogue while I sit at my desk and gaze out the window or while I sit at a coffee shop, quietly sipping a cup of coffee, while others bustle about, my laptop on the table with an empty screen facing me.

“I have this deadline—and the article isn’t coming together.”
“How should I rearrange these particular paragraphs?”
“I’m too distracted.”
“This is digging up too much emotion.”
“Can I even do this? Why did I say yes?”
“Why didn’t they accept my submission?”
“What do I even write about?”

Based on what I have read from other writers, I believe I am not the only one who has said the above; I am sure you could add your own statements to the list.

For many of us, we are sure to encounter a season of struggle in our writing at one time or another. Maybe we even find ourselves in longer seasons of dry spells, struggling to put something of value and beauty onto the page.

Perhaps the struggle is against a deadline. Perhaps a struggle ensues in seeking the exact word or phrase, or the overarching purpose and length of a particular piece. Perhaps the struggle arises from within—a struggle with ourselves—of willpower or motivation or something else.

If struggle is inevitable, how can the writer “embrace struggle” as Rilke describes it? Must we?

I came across something recently that gave me some hope in those times of struggling and digging.

In Luke 5, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people near the Sea of Galilee. He spotted two boats on the shore, climbed into Simon’s boat, and continued speaking to the crowd from the boat. After he finished speaking to the crowd, Jesus told Simon to go into the lake and do some fishing.

Trouble was, Simon had been fishing all night long, and had come up empty, and was even cleaning his nets. He says, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” (Luke 5:5, NIV). He pretty much says, “Been there, done that, Jesus.”Furthermore, it is not just any place in the water that Jesus is asking Simon to fish: he tells him to fish in a deep part of the lake (Luke 5:4).

Jesus asks Simon to take the nets he’d just cleaned, and go out try again. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually tired after I’ve been out fishing all night! (I’m joking, of course; I have never been fishing all night.)

Presumably, experienced fishermen already know where the fish bite, when to fish, what parts of the lake are best, etc. I wonder if it felt somewhat insulting to be told where to fish and to go out again.

I can’t say I blame Simon. When Jesus, a carpenter and not a fisherman, tells them to go out again and drop their nets in the deep part of a lake, it must have sounded like a strange, fruitless, and unnecessary request.

Sometimes, writing (or service, or a job, or ministry, or some other activity requiring long-term diligent focus and attention) can feel like a long night of fishing with no catch. Maybe it can feel fruitless.

Yet, Simon and the others, already tired from the long night of fishing, do what Jesus asked: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5).

When they pulled up their nets, the nets were overflowing with such an abundance of fish they had to summon the other boat to come and assist them.

I do not know how long the particular obedience has been for each one of us. I do not know how many times we have dipped down our nets and come up empty-handed.

Rilke says, “embrace struggle”, and “everything in nature grows and struggles…establishing its own identity.” If the need for struggle is a “surety”, instead of fighting these seasons, viewing them as blockages, perhaps we are meant to embrace them. Perhaps the struggle is part of the formula needed to forge our own identity, the part that takes us to a deeper, truer level while also resulting in an astonishingly abundant net. Perhaps the growth occurs as we struggle; that one cannot occur without the other.

This little passage reminds me that no matter how many long nights have yielded nothing, that words and hope-filled stories are swimming and breathing underneath. A treasure is stirring in the deep, waiting for its time to surface. The next net pulled up may contain tender morsels of light and love for a reader who needs them.

***

Prasanta Verma is a writer, poet, and artist. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @ pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.