You may have heard about the interesting group of folks known to us as the “desert fathers and mothers” (or abbas and ammas). Early monastic Christians, the abbas and ammas lived out in the desert either in solitude or in small enclave communities. What has been passed on to us from the third and fourth century through various sources are their “sayings.” These appear as stories from their lives that still offer spiritual guidance to us through the use of Scripture and practical wisdom. (See, for example, Benedicta Ward’s compilation The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. You can even “search inside” at Amazon.)
To our ears–and to our lives–these ancient sayings often seem odd, impractical, and quaint. But they’re really rather revolutionary.
Still, what could they possibly have to do with dishwashers?
I’m so glad you asked.
I get tired of not having a dishwasher. I get tired of doing dishes. And I get tired of walking into the kitchen and, once again, seeing a pile of dishes waiting for the next poor soul to attack with a soapy sponge. (As I’ve said before, it’s usually not me, but still.)
Like so many things we do to keep our lives ordered–folding laundry, cleaning bathrooms, cooking dinner, buying groceries, picking up the kids at school–the spectre of dishes needing to be washed never goes away. That’s because no matter how many dishes you wash, there will always be more dirty dishes right around the corner.
In other words, there is always work to be done.
Many of the early desert Christians who lived primarily in solitude spent their days in prayer and, we know, doing the practical work of weaving baskets or rope that they could then sell for a pittance in nearby towns. Abba Paul, however, lived further from town than most, and because of the cost of transportation, couldn’t sell his wares except at a loss. (Not a wise move if you’re a capitalist or just a lone soul in need of bread to live on.) But Abba Paul still wove baskets every day. He was committed to putting in a full days’ work, futile though it seemed since he couldn’t sell his baskets. Then, at the end of the year, we are told in the sayings, Abba Paul did the unthinkable. He burned his baskets and began all over again.
He burned his entire year’s worth of work.
And started over again.
Whenever I feel myself getting disgruntled at the pointlessness of my labor, especially in front of the sink, especially when they aren’t even my dishes, but even when they are, I think of Abba Paul.
Lesson #3) It's the dedication to a life of service, a life of tedium, a life of work, a life of making community work, that matters. Not the progress we see.
Or, in the case of dishes, that we never see.