Last night, I was washing dishes, which is my usual nightly chore after James goes to bed. We’re grateful dishwasher users, but with his birth, there were so many things that had to be washed by hand and often, that this became one of my chores. And usually I hate it. I often resent things that require my time and discipline when all I really want to is sit, rest, recover from the day, and maybe even spend some time with my husband.
But that was not the case last night. Last night, I tied an apron around my waist and laughed to myself. I had asked for aprons for Christmas and am delighting in the 2 cute ones my cousin got me – one white with black polka dots and the other a cupcake design. I laughed because as grateful as I am not to completely soak my clothes with the help of these aprons, it’s funny to think of myself – a strong, independent pastor, here in the kitchen in a frilly, pretty apron doing the dishes. It seems like a contradiction.
I felt peace settle over me as I reminded myself – “Mountain pose at the front of your mat” – in this case, the padded mat in front of the sink – “Stand up tall, feet parallel to one another, breathe.” When I stand this way, rooted into the floor, the ground, the earth, the chore becomes less painful on my back.
I considered all these things, because if there’s one thing washing dishes is good for, besides getting tiny bowls, spoons, and sippy cups clean, it’s giving me a chance to think. Maybe there’s not so much discord between who I am and what I’m doing as there might appear. In this small act, I serve my family. I get things clean that need to be clean. I take upon myself the dirt and grime and wash it all away. And I am nothing less for this act of love.
In that moment, the kitchen sink was redeemed as a beautiful glimpse of the self-giving love of God. God deigned it worthwhile to take on a human life in order to wash, to clean, to renew us all. And while some theologians have called this incarnation in Jesus Christ to be the humiliation of God and the exaltation of humanity, I question the former.
Is God disgraced by being among us? It sounds just like the kind of stuff God always does – whether it’s a walk in the garden looking for the two kids or passing a prophet by on a mountainside – God moves in creation, in loving relationship, and is nothing less for it. The incarnation was a surpassingly unique and powerful way of showing us, all of us thick-headed mud creatures, that God is always that close even as God is entirely transcendent. God’s inherent, magnificent, mysterious nature is no more stooped in the incarnation than my more ordinary life is debased by doing some dishes. We’re both in the business of creating order out of chaos and getting things clean.
I know some folks might think that this metaphor is silly. They might think that I think too much of myself or too little of God because I catch a glimpse of how my life story is caught up in the grand story of creation in something so mundane. But I think it’s important.
While serving as a chaplain candidate in the Air Force, I asked some of the young men training to be Catholic priests why women couldn’t do the same. It wasn’t rude – we’d already done countless runs and push-ups together, helped each other over brick walls and through truly boring classes and demanding memorization – so we were ready to ask real questions and understand each other more. The guys explained that it was because a woman could not be imago Christi, that is in the image of Christ. Literally because Christ was male and all women were, well, female.
I understand the literal nature of this interpretation, even as I detest the limits it sets for half of humanity. So, I rejoice that I’m able to see myself and all my sisters in God’s glorious work, fully embracing our imago Dei, even in the mundane workings of life, from birth to death and all the dishes in between.