Cleaning up

Photo by Pirjo L.
Photo by Pirjo L.

I know some people are the opposite, but I enjoy cooking more than the washing up.  The former is an excuse to be creative, and carries its own reward: good food.  The latter…well, to me the latter just returns things to normal.  Small wonder that it’s sometimes tempting to take the “good enough” approach to washing cookware.  You figure, It’s going back on a hot stove, so, hey, that oughta kill all the bad stuff, right?  Let’s just get this done.  I’ve got better things to do.

I’m reminded of Brother Lawrence, the 17th century Carmelite monk who developed his unique understanding of Christian spirituality while working in the monastery kitchen.  Why shouldn’t we experience the presence of God even when doing mundane things like washing the dishes? he wondered.  Even little things can be done for the love of God.

I’ve never forgotten that homely advice.  We don’t have to kid ourselves into thinking that household chores are in themselves grand and glorious works for the sake of the kingdom.  But they can be opportunities, to use Brother Lawrence’s phrase, to “practice the presence of God.”

And who knows what might happen if we did.

The other day, I was scrubbing a baking sheet on which my wife had roasted carrots.  (Yes, carrots.  Delicious.)  The surface of the sheet is textured to allow air circulation when making cookies.  Roasted carrots, however, leave a burnt, sugary residue that’s hard to scrub out of the nooks and crannies.  It’s tempting to leave a few black spots here and there and call it done.

But as anyone who’s ever cleaned a barbecue grill knows, the more stuff you leave stuck on there, the more will stick next time.  Ditto for pots and pans, even the “non-stick” ones (which I sometimes lump in a category with so-called “wrinkle-free” shirts).  We’ve moved away from using cooking sprays for just that reason; eventually, the sprays leave enough built-up residue that the “non-” vanishes and all you’re left with is the “stick.”

So I attended to my job, dutifully cleaning every last charred fleck from the baking sheet, trying Lawrence-like to remain open to the presence of God.

And then, unbidden, a verse from the apostle John floated into my awareness: “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong” (1 John 1:9, CEB).

We confess our sins to God to receive his gracious forgiveness.  We confess to be cleansed.  And while John’s metaphor of cleansing may be meant to invoke religious images of ritual purification, at that moment I was standing at the sink with a sticky baking sheet in my hands.  We do a good job of cleaning, I thought, so that something is less likely to stick in the same spot next time.

As John would have it, we don’t confess our sins out of fear, but out of love.

And we confess completely, because we know ourselves: if we don’t seek a thorough cleansing from this or that sin, something will stick there next time.