Finding God in the Laundry
In retrospect, the peak of my time doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius was when I yelled to my spiritual director in frustration, “I just don’t see how God is present when I’m doing the laundry!!!”
It wasn’t the most spiritually affective moment of the Exercises, or the deepest intellectually. It wasn’t the most emotional or even the happiest. It was, however, deeply honest and actually pretty funny, come to think of it. I had been struggling to keep my commitment to an hour of daily prayer as part of the Exercises. When my spiritual director asked why, I confessed that it wasn’t because I didn’t want to pray; it was because everything else in my day seemed to pale in comparison to the joy and peace and contentment I felt when I prayed. The idea of going into a prayer time knowing that the day would all be downhill from there was too much. So, I just didn’t some days. My director asked why God’s joy and peace and contentment had to be confined only to my hour of prayer, why it couldn’t also be found in my quotidian chores and happenings, and thus my frustrated response about the banality of laundry.
The funny thing is, my spiritual director wasn’t the only one who heard my cry. I was coming up on the point in the Exercises where I started praying with the stories of Jesus’ life, beginning with the Annunciation. Weeks later, I explained to my director how, in my prayer, I had seen the scene from the perspective of the angel. As the angel approached Mary doing her chores outside, it had felt excited about the news it was about to share.
“What was Mary doing outside?” my director asked.
“She was hanging wet clothes on the line to dry,” I responded.
My director tilted her head. “How interesting,” she said, smiling, “that she was doing the laundry!”
I laughed as I realized that God had heard my frustration and was teaching me an important lesson: prayer can look like kneeling in an incense-filled chapel sometimes, but being in a relationship with God takes places in all times, in all things—even the laundry.
As I proceeded through the Exercises—a discipline and experience that took almost a year and a half—laundry kept popping up in my prayer times. As I prayed with the Nativity, the women of Bethlehem attended to Mary in her labor and washed her dirty traveling clothes so she had something clean, soft, and warm to wear afterward. As Jesus went through the stations of the cross during his Passion, I carried the hem of his cloak behind him, and it was caked in mud and blood and thorns. During Holy Saturday, I tidied the cushions and blankets in the Upper Room and tucked a grieving, crying Mary in for a nap, covering her with an intricately woven blanket. It seems that laundry is intertwined with God’s presence in the world after all.
Laundry is but one example of how we can find God present in what appears to be the mundane. Each New Year, people make resolutions to redirect their prayer lives, pray more, pray more consistently. I bet some would even echo my frustration that it feels impossible to find God outside of formal, pre-scripted prayer. This year, I invite you to ask God to show you where God meets you in the mundane—in the car rides, the emails, the cooking, and maybe even in the laundry.