About one week ago, our dishwasher died. Well, it didn’t die completely; it just shut down mid-cycle no matter how many times we tried to make it work. And, boy, did we try. We spent a ridiculous amount of time running the normal cycle, hearing the telltale ding of an error and then re-running cycles — sometimes four or five in a row — in an effort to get the dishes clean, if not dry. Finally, we surrendered, accepting the fact that for the foreseeable future we had no dishwasher, thanks to a dearth of appointments with our warranty company. And so, this weekend, Dennis headed to the store to buy a drain rack so we could start doing dishes the old-fashioned way.
One of our three children marveled at this strange contraption, wondering how it “worked.” Another saw me with my hands in sudsy water and asked if she might try since it looked so “fun.” I flashed back to my own young childhood, when our home had no dishwasher at all, and I was the nightly dryer of dishes, standing beside my mother begrudgingly with towel in hand.
But, as I soaked the dishes, up to my elbows in warmth and bubbles, looking out the kitchen window at the lush green of our slightly-out-of-control backyard plants, I felt…what was it? Peace. Maybe even joy. Definitely satisfaction. This long-lost simple pleasure, this chore, was, in reality, a welcome break from the chaos of life, giving me reason to pause, to stand in one place with nowhere to go and to meditatively move my hands in circles as I scrubbed the plates and pots.
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, in Peace Is Every Step: “The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles! If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert.”
In my own book, Everyday Divine, I recommend turning everyday chores into prayers: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom, CEO, teacher, plumber, student, or retiree, certain things simply have to be done: washing dishes, making beds, mowing lawns, wiping counters. This is the most logical place to begin adding everyday prayer into your life. Why not make the most of all that time spent doing necessary tasks?”
It took the inconvenience of a broken dishwasher to remind me of my own instructions. As it turns out, St. Teresa of Avila was right: “God moves among the pots and pans.” Especially when warm, soapy water is involved.