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Dishwashing Prayers

When confronted with a pile of dirty dishes, think of it as a time to pray while you clean.

Pray while doing the dishes
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My wife Carol is the cook in our family and a very fine cook she is. But I am delighted to have a crucial role in the kitchen and in our division of labor: I wash the dishes.

“Delighted” did you hear me say? Actually yes. I like washing dishes. It’s one of those rare jobs where you can actually see progress.

You step into the kitchen after a big holiday dinner and the place looks like a tornado hit it. Dirty plates stacked left and right, pots and pans in the sink, some filled with silverware, some soaking in water. Napkins tossed about, gravy droppings painting the counter, a half-carved turkey carcass that will need to be stripped for soup.

I take it all in, while Carol brings more detritus in from the battlefield (i.e. the dining room table) and I mutter some prayer like, “All this bounty is a sign of your goodness, Lord. Help me clean the mess up.”

There’s the soothing sound of the water pouring over the dishes and the scrapping they get before they’re slotted in the dishwasher.

The silverware clinks in my hands like a glockenspiel, the pans bang against each other like tambourines. I am my own percussion section. I scrub an ornery spot of gravy off a chafing dish and the sponge squeaks at me in a soprano key.

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Carol puts away leftovers in the fridge, more bounty to be grateful for, and I dry some of the pots I’ve washed until the damp towel needs to be replaced. I love the way nature dries too. I put some of the newly cleaned pans in the dish rack where warm currents of air will dry them.

I’ve heard spiritual mentors say that to garner the full benefits of such work you should stay in the moment–with the water, the scrubbing, the drying. But I also find myself recalling things people said at dinner, relishing the blessings to be found in family and friends.

Oftentimes I hear the complaint: “I never have time to pray.” Maybe it’s that when we have to do mundane chores, like cleaning the sink, vacuuming the rug or washing the dishes we’re being given a chance to pray.

When that last bit of dirty water goes down the drain and I dump those last shards of garbage into the composting bin, I feel like I’m cleaning up my act, the way God wipes away all our sins and mistakes, forgiving us in a process that’s even quicker than cleaning up the dishes.

I give one last look at the now mostly clean kitchen before I turn out the light. What once was a mess is now no more. A clean slate and time well spent. Until I have to do the chore again.

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