These days I am washing dishes by hand, one by one, more carefully and thoughtfully, before putting them in the dishwasher.
It’s not just because I want them to be extra clean in this time of a very infectious virus. Nor is it an obsessive-compulsive practice. Heaven knows that on the scale of clean to dirty households, I usually hover around “acceptable to the health department.” (I subscribe to the philosophy of that great humorous — and Catholic — writer Erma Bombeck, from Dayton, Ohio: “My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.”) Rather, in this epochal time, it seems right to do things slowly, thoughtfully, and with a full appreciation of the task one is undertaking.
The Slow Life in Ohio
Slow, thoughtful living. Here in Ohio, we have been asked by a very gracious and thoughtful man to stay on our property as much as possible so that we, as much as possible, will prevent others from getting sick. We see this as a great and noble calling to which Ohioans, in their typical Midwestern fashion, have overwhelmingly risen, just as we did in fighting to free the slaves, rationing during two World Wars, and becoming the home to eight United States Presidents as well as the world’s entire aviation and space industry.
(I heard it said by historian Douglas Brinkley, an Ohioan and author of the bestselling American Moonshot, that the reason so many Ohioans — from the Wright Brothers to John Glenn, Gene Kranz, and Neil Armstrong — were so interested in flight was because Ohio is so flat. We’ve got a lot of sky to ponder. Alas, I digress, but this commonly occurs with living a slow, thoughtful life, and often results in great wisdom.)
Slow, thoughtful living. Secular gurus call may call this “mindfulness”; Catholics understand this as percolating each moment with the grateful awareness that it is a gift from God to be lived for His glory. Saint Mother Teresa’s quote seems fitting: “Wash the dishes, not because it is dirty, nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” So I wash each dish well, with a prayerful caress for the one who used it and those who will use it in the future.
Finding Meaning in a Radiator
And I think about the conversations I’ve been having with others who are also living slowly and thoughtfully. We all realize that there is some secret, hidden, Godly wisdom that we are finally glimpsing because we all have slowed down.
Our family plumber had come to our 1928 home in December to check our heating system, refill any needed water, and bleed the radiators. The process of letting the steam out of each radiator allows the hot water to circulate better through the iron behemoths in each room. He called recently to ask how things were going and shared that he had to make an emergency run to the local Visitation monastery.
The plumber and his dad before him have been serving these cloistered nuns for over 70 years. He described how he had to bleed the radiators in each of the cells — the sisters’ private rooms — which only contain a bed, a desk and chair, and window, and a small iron radiator. Normally, he only speaks to the one “public relations” nun who greets him at the door, but on this occasion, he chatted — from a distance — with a young nun in whose room he needed to work.
The plumber explained to this nun that he needed to bleed her radiator because “dead” water carries heat more efficiently and does not make any noise. It’s only the “live” water — full of oxygen — that makes the pings and pops which disturb the quiet of a place. He said that he left feeling that the young nun much preferred the “living” water flowing through her room, but even so, God works miraculously through the dead to warm her room. He laughed when he shared this with me. Leave it to a nun to find the deeper religious meaning from simple plumbing work.
Miracle on an Envelope
This reminded me of a scribble on an envelope that I encountered many years ago at a sign shop. During a moment in my life when my faith had waned, I wanted to find my way back. A priest had recommended that I begin reading the book of Matthew and learn more about the love that Jesus had for me, which he called agápē. He reiterated it — “Matthew and agápē: Jesus loves you.”
A few weeks after that conversation, as I began my slow journey through Matthew, I went into a sign shop to pick up an order. The salesperson was in the back, and as I rang the bell on the counter, I saw a plain white envelope with two words scribbled on it, one above the other: MATT AGAPE.
A chill ran down my spine and I froze. The salesperson approached the counter and I asked her where that envelope came from. She picked it up, casually crumpled it, and threw it in the trash. “I don’t know — someone must have just left it there.” To her, it was just an odd reminder that someone left behind. To me, it was nothing short of a miraculous message from Jesus. Read My words in Matthew. Trust in My agápē for you. I got it.
This Time is a Gift
Other miracles like this would occur, but only during times when I am deeply quiet and living very slowly. It seems that it is only during those times when my mind and heart are free to see, hear, and touch Him.
Slow, thoughtful living.
Let us embrace this time and every tiny task and moment. As much as we are able, let us see this time as a gift.
Perhaps then we may finally observe His miracles that surround us.