Laundry Lessons:
More Than Just
Getting Stains Out

Reflections on Laundry and God's presence, The Cloister Walk and Liturgy of Life

Laundry seems to have an almost religious importance for many women. We groan about the drudgery but seldom talk about the secret pleasure we feel at being able to make dirty things clean, especially the clothes of our loved ones, which possess an intimacy all their own.

(Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk)

We spent most of last year living on a 7,000 acre ranch out in the Hill Country of Central Texas.  The scenery was spectacular which was good because the small dimly lit cabin we lived in required that we spend a lot of time outdoors. I had a washing machine on a back porch (situated right outside of a giant walk-in refrigerator about the size of my daughter’s  current bed room,  put there for hunters to store the deer that they had killed).  My only option for a dryer was a line strung up behind the house.

My relationship with that line, like any good relationship, was full of challenge and delight.  On a warm breezy day I adored it. I loved toting my basket, heavy with wet clothes, to the yard and carefully pinning up each piece. The line was just long enough to fit three days worth of laundry and I had just enough clothes pins, so I had to carefully decide what to hang where to make sure it all fit. Plus I had to think about where the sun was the brightest and consider what had stains and needed to be bleached in the sun and what wouldn’t dry if it spent too much of the day in the shade.

As summer drew on laundry began to feel a bit more like work. I was sweating before I even got started and the fire ants seemed to find my ankles no matter where I stepped. Sometimes I would drop a newly washed white towel into the dust and lift it up covered with burrs and wish for an air conditioned mud-room where this sort of frustration was unheard of.

But overall doing laundry that year taught me a lot.

I learned that I needed to pay attention to the world around me.  Unlike most of the modern world where technology now allows me to control my own climate,  I quickly realized that a sudden afternoon thunderstorm (which granted unlike this year, were quite rare last summer) could ruin all my work.

I learned that the world does not revolve around me. Some days are sunny and some are rainy and I had to adjust my plans according to the world  around me.  And while it was frustrating to have my plans delayed it was also a longed for relief to be reminded that I was very small and that the realm of my control is much tinier that I often imagine it to be.

I learned to slow down. I realized that laundry has to be done and my time spent doing it was just as important as anything else. So  rather than let my mind  race ahead to all I had left to do I began to practice being quiet, not only not talking but letting my mind rest in the present moment, relishing in the smells of cedar trees and warmth of sunlight as I worked.

That summer I hung my laundry in the speckled light that came through the cedars and oaks,the birds would chirp and sing around my head and by afternoon my clothes smelled like pure sunshine. As I took down each stiff piece and stacked them neatly to keep them from spilling onto the dry grass I began to realize that God was  right there with me and it dawned on me that He probably always is even when I don’t notice, that something as simple as laundry can be gift to know Him more.


For another laundry inspired post click here

This post is part of a series of reflections on The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris which we are reading as part of the Liturgy of Life Reading Group. We would love to hear from you or have you join in and read and ponder along with us. Thanks for being here.

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