Lessons from the Land without Dishwashers: #3

[An introduction to this blog series is here. Lesson #1 is here. #2 is here.]

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.

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2 comments on “Lessons from the Land without Dishwashers: #3

  1. stephen says:

    Ohhh. So true. And very timely for me. I have been struggling with wanting to change some things in my life so they fit me and my expectations better. But it’s not about ME all the time. Abba Paul worked hard because working hard is what he was called to do. He could have moved closer to town so he could sell his baskets without taking a loss, moving would have allowed him to fit into the world better. No, he worked hard where he was not matter how hard or difficult it was. He worked, he prayed, he worshipped God no matter what the circumstances were.

  2. Liz's Dad says:

    Thanks Liz! When the toils of everyday life and the interruption of others’ emergencies claim my time I will try to remember Abba Paul. Maybe he know something we don’t always understand, that we would be better to burn last years work (baskets) so we forget the past and look to the future? Or maybe that our work is what we do to keep our minds sharp and our bodies in shape and getting paid might just be the extra benefit we don’t always realize.

    I am at the age that I see too many people retire but to what do they seem to retire to? Inactivity because they don’t understand what work is for. Better to be a dishwasher in the house of the Lord than inactive in your own house?

    Ah, just late night ramblings I guess.

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