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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Of Clotheslines and Henri Nouwen . . .

Late this afternoon, it was pleasantly warm and quite breezy, so after I washed a load of towels, I hung them out. This morning, I had been behind my desk at work.  This afternoon, I was behind the wheel dodging construction on my daily visit to see my mother.  Later, I was at the counter chopping onion and carrots for the stew pot, when the stopped washing machine finally coaxed me outside.

With the basket of heavy, damp towels balanced on one hip, I started across the grass toward the clothesline in bare feet, feeling the breeze and warm sun on my face.  As I hung the towels, all of the stress of the day seemed to be forgotten.  Being outside, even to do work, was like a soothing balm.  My mind wandered, and I thought about how there is something profound and holy about the experience of hanging clothes outside on a line. It was so nice to enjoy all of the beauty around me, as I reflected on my busy day.

We have a hammock stretched from an old maple tree on one end, to the clothesline pole on the other.  Dinner was simmering in the pot on the stove, husband still at work, children all occupied elsewhere, so there was no hurry to go inside.  As I relaxed for a moment in the hammock, I could hear the crack of the towels blowing in the wind.  Looking up into the canopy of branches above, I spotted a few red-tipped leaves.  The cicadas cried in a loud chorus that summer is fading, and fall is beginning.

As the wind rocked my hammock back and forth, I thought about how hanging out the clothes today was God's invitation for me to slow down and savor His presence in nature.  There is simple beauty in the ordinary, and majesty in the everyday.  It also reminded me of a book that just I finished reading last night - Henri Nouwen's "Our Greatest Gift:  A Meditation on Dying and Caring." 

I had checked out this book from our church library recently.  I felt drawn to it by the title, and I imagined it would speak to me in the season of life I now find myself in - providing support for my mother as she is slowly dying.  And while the book was exactly that, it also contained simple yet profound truths which applied to more than helping others along their final journey.  One of my favorite passages was Nouwen's description of mealtime at the community for those with mental disabilities in which he lived and served as chaplain at the time this book was written ( 1994 - L'Arche Daybreak in Toronto). 

"Meals in our houses are the high points of our daily life.  They are like small celebrations.  Food is eaten slowly, because many of us cannot eat by ourselves and need to be fed.  Conversations around the table are simple, because many of us cannot speak and those who can, don't use many words.  Often there are candles and flowers, and on special occasions there are banners and balloons."  (Nouwen, 99)  

The simple act of eating together became such an important part of the day because the staff recognized it as a holy moment in time.  In the same way, the seemingly mundane act of hanging clothes became a moment in which I sensed God's presence in the wind blowing the towels and branches, in the sounds of birds and cicada, and in the cool shade and soft grass.

Take some time to be still today.  God speaks to us when we slow down long enough to listen.

In His Peace,


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