There’s something missing in my kitchen. A hundred years ago, no one would have noticed - fifty years back its presence would have been considered a luxury. Today, people’s eyes widen when I tell them, and they lower their voices with incredulity, “You don’t have a dishwasher?”
It’s true. I don’t. Well, I take that back - I have two. I’m currently typing with them. They’re a little more chapped and chafed than they were in winters past - winters when the calm of evening was carried along by a soft background hum, the steady pulse of spinning water sterilizing my forks and knives and tableware. I washed dishes occasionally by hand in those days, too. The vestiges of good meals shared were rinsed away before the plates were cradled in their sauna, the ones unable to handle the heat delicately bathed and dried. If I numbered my moments spent elbow deep in suds, the hours could quite possibly stretch into years.
Washing dishes, at first glance, is a menial task. What I wash today I will wash again tomorrow, and, if I continue eating, next week and the week after that. To alleviate the problem, I could buy paper plates (wasteful), learn to cook or eat without dishes (messy), or give up cooking all-together for restaurants and take-out (tempting).
I used to hate washing dishes. Lately, however, I’ve been coming to terms with my dishwashing demons. A chore I once loathed has now become slightly therapeutic - instead of hurriedly rinsing and tossing utensils into the hotbox, I settle into the task, knowing that a job done quickly will not be a job done well. Each dish, each glass, each mug is acknowledged, gently wiped if the damage is light, scrubbed if the offending scum is a bit more stubborn. Every soapy baptism yields a dish reborn as its sparkling self. It doesn’t matter that I have done this before; nor that in a day or two, I will do it again. The dish must be cleaned in order to be used, and because it is worthy of use, I wash it. Over and over again. And one more time.
The steady repetition of washing dishes reminds me of so many other cycles in life. A task is completed and set aside, only to be picked up again the next day. And the next. As long as I continue to eat (and can’t afford a lifestyle of restaurant luxury), I will continue to wash dishes.
I often think I would prefer if tasks would stay completed. Almost a year ago I ran 42 kilometers in a marathon. Today my body struggles to run eight. Last week I ate a meal that was so good and so filling I could barely walk. This morning my stomach loudly grumbled its discontent at my pitiful lack of breakfast offerings. I spent all day yesterday drawing oxygen in and out of my lungs, and yet I find myself still breathing today.
The world I live in is prone to deterioration. Without regular maintenance, my car, my body, and my friendships will slide into rust and decay; my dishes will crust over and be useless. Both our vices and our virtues must be fed in order to survive. My relationship with God is no different.
The pages of Scripture are replete with the rhythm of holy maintenance; the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years received only a daily dose of manna, the Law given through Moses drew them to the Temple for feasts and sacrifices that came around every season. Jeremiah reminds us that God’s mercies are new every morning; Jesus tells His disciples to ask for daily bread. Every Spring overthrows every Winter drawn from the frosted breath of every Autumn left in the wake of every Summer. The world turns, and turns again. Dawn breaks, evening falls. Dish soap is whipped into lather in the sink, moments pass and it dribbles feebly down the drain.
Christian theology teaches us that belief in Christ is what sweeps the eternal consequences of our sins into the depths of the sea, building for us a home in Heaven. The moment our faith emerges, a switch is thrown - the old is gone, the new has come. We become creatures of a new sort, brimming with new life, breathing with new hope. Love takes its place in our soul’s repertoire, as do joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are the good soil these fruits thrive in, they bud and blossom through our hands and feet and the way we use our voices.
And while the task of our salvation is complete, we are tempted to leave beside it the articles of holy maintenance. We survey our circumstances and wish for a switch to be thrown. We want our lives to be fixed, and to never need fixing again. Looking back at the moments we felt most alive, when joy swept through us like a flood, when the light of freedom blazed through every corner of our souls; we now glance at dried up creek beds and crowds of shadows. Under the gaze of our paper plate vision, we reckon we should give up, toss it away and order take-out instead.
Just because joy does not now sing through my veins, does not mean I will not hear its song again. Just because peace eludes these current moments, does not mean it waits for me along heaven’s shores, determined to remain there until my body is laid down and my soul takes flight. I cannot warm my heart today with the fuel of last year’s fire. I must join the holy rhythm, coming back to my God for His daily bread (out of obedience, if nothing else) over and over again. And one more time.
Just a few feet from where I sit, priceless works of art are stacked in a heap. Fiercely lovely in their monochromatic glory, one buries the one beneath it, hundreds more cover them both in the span of a breath. Stunning in simplicity, unpretentious and unique, these icy drops of heaven are scattered two feet deep by a Creator who feels the beauty of a snowflake is important, even if He and the angels are the only ones privy to such intricacies. Great billowing drifts of suds wash over an earth that has been washed before; it will be washed again.
This is the God I return to, the One who sustains me, who feeds my soul, who sets beauty in places sometimes only He can see. He settles into the task, knowing that a job done quickly will not be a job done well. He gently wipes me clean when I am damaged; He scrubs away offending scum when I am stubborn. It doesn’t matter that He has done this before, or that He will do it again. He doesn’t toss me away like yesterday’s paper plate. He never gives up and orders take-out instead. It seems He finds me worth the effort and when I come to Him with my paltry offerings of obedience and praise, He baptizes me anew; I am reborn into my sparkling self.
I am glad I’m not a task He has completed. Submitting myself to soul maintenance is not often easy; it is rarely fun. Many times I do wish He would fix my life and leave it fixed. If He did, however, I would not witness the steadiness of His love, the rhythm of His hands molding and shaping, cleansing and renewing me over and over again. And one more time. That is something I couldn’t bear missing.
“Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” -Jesus (John 15:4-5)
When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...