finding God in the sheets (both dirty and folded)

Some days it is positively dreamy to work from home. Days when your office looks like this:

Other days, you deeply regret the fact that your commute involves one flight of stairs.

Case in point: you rise early, determined to give the house a quick clean before the babysitter arrives (because pregnancy exhaustion gave you a great reason to practice Sabbath and not do any housework on Sunday). So you finish cleaning the kitchen, sweep the floors, empty the trash, throw in a load of laundry, and even manage to shower – all before 7:30 am. Perfect timing to feed the child before the babysitter arrives in an hour.

And then you go in to get the cooing cherub. And find him standing in his crib, grinning ear to ear, with poop smeared across his forehead, his feet, and the entire crib sheet.

What can you do but laugh?

(And curse yourself for being too lazy to fold diapers last night and relying on a disposable, which never fails to produce such explosions. In the time-honored tradition of Sesame Street, this mothering moment was brought to you by the letters C and B for Cotton Babies, the best makers of explosion-proof cloth diapers, called BumGenius for good reason.)

These are the days when working from home comes back to bite you.

Because instead of starting work promptly at 8:30, you find yourself scrubbing a toddler, his sheets and pajamas, literally from head to toe. Then starting another load of laundry. And struggling to remake a crib mattress with a large pregnant belly in the way. And finding that the perfectly timed morning has melted down into greeting the babysitter at the door with a laugh and a “we didn’t quite get around to breakfast yet…”

A Monday morning moment if I’ve ever had one.

Ironically (<– often a hallmark of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my day-to-day) I came across this passage in a book I was reading for work later this morning, while laundry load #3 chugged in the washer:

It is said that the Christian mystic Theresa of Avila found difficulty at first in reconciling the vastness of the life of the spirit with the mundane tasks of her Carmelite convent: the washing of pots, the sweeping of floors, the folding of laundry. At some point of grace, the mundane became for her a sort of prayer, a way she could experience her ever-present connection to the divine pattern that is the source of life. She began then to see the face of God in the folded sheets.

People can most easily recognize mystery when it presents itself in dramatic ways: the person who heals for unknown reasons when all hope is gone, the angelic vistation, the life-altering coincidence. We seem to be able to hear God best when He shouts – even Moses required a burning bush, and Jesus’ disciples needed him to feed multitudes with a single fish. Yet mystery is as common as a trip to the grocery store. In Guide for the Perplexed, E. F. Schumacher notes that the endless debate about the nature of the world is founded on difference in the senstivity of the eyes that behold it: ‘We can see only what we have grown an eye to see.’ Some of us can only notice miracles. Some of us can only see in times of crisis. Yet we can all learn to see God in the folded sheets.

…Life can become habit, something done without thinking. Living life in this way does not awaken us. Yet any of our daily habits can awaken us. All of life can become ritual. When it does, our experience of life changes radically and the ordinary becomes consecrated. Ritual doesn’t make mystery happen. It helps us see and experience something which is already real. It does not create the sacred, it only describes what is there and has always been there, deeply hidden in the obvious.

~ from “Consecrating the Ordinary” in Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

Thanks to the current interweaving of my vocations, I often come across little gems like this in my research on vocation and theology of work that I jot down as food for thought for this blog. I did this same with this passage. Until I suddenly realized maybe this wasn’t a post for Someday – maybe it was a post for Right Now.

Considering I had a WASHER FULL OF DIRTY SHEETS in the next room.

Okay, I laughed to myself. I will think on this one a bit.

And here’s what I came up with:

At first there was No Way Under Heaven that I could see the face of God in the sheets that greeted me in S’s crib this summer morning. No picture necessary to describe for you the scene; you’ve all got vivid imaginations.

But something changed in the pulling off, the scrubbing down, the sudsing up of those sheets. Something happened when I pulled out the fresh mattress pad and a new clean sheet. And the something that happened was this: I remembered why I was doing what I was doing.

Yes, on the surface, it was simply because of the disgustingness of the situation. But it was also:

  • because someone once did this for me, when I was a baby
  • because like every mother, I want my babies surrounded by beauty and comfort and cleanliness
  • because I wanted to leave this small corner of the world better than I found it when I happened upon it this morning

And all three of those reasons reminded me that this work of mothering, this work of cleaning, this work of homemaking – which, when it bumps up against the work of theology and the work of writing that also fill my days and home, can stress and stretch me past the point where I feel in control – all of this work is my vocation.

The give and the take. The responding to unexpected calls. The doing-the-laundry while doing-the-research. Vocations are multiple and they are complicated and they never reach a balanced equilibrium. They involve both the life of the Spirit and the work of the mundane.

But the God of the folded sheets is found in the in-between: the creases and the bends and the unexpected, hidden places.

“We can see only what we have grown an eye to see.” We can go on for days without thinking, without waking, without seeing. It is our own willingness to open our eyes that allows us to see the possibility for sacred all around us.

Whether in folded sheets or the pre-folded (read: dirty and repulsive) version thereof.

May your Mondays be blessed with sweet smells and clean sheets…

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