Good Zeal

The secret language of dishes

During dinner tonight, the conversation at our table shifted to dishes and eventually we started talking about the “peanut butter knife” and how the presence of this knife amongst the breakfast dishes is a sure sign of a particular circumstance. We went on to talk about some of the other signs that point to particular times and seasons, likely happenstances, or the probable presence of certain people or events – all from the simple presence, absence, or arrangement of dishes.

There are signs such as the mysterious little dish and spoon that sometimes appear just as dinner dishes are concluding…There is the occasional early morning evidence of a midnight kitchen foray… There is the cluster of midday coffee mugs that are sure signs of a meeting (but who? and where?)… There is the orange-handled knife that has one use, and one use only… There are the distinct styles of feathering, or stacking, or arranging trays for drying… There are the few trays that look just like the other trays, but they are not like the other trays…

We all take our assigned turns at dishes, and after a while we all learn the secret language. Except that it’s not a secret at all. We just eventually come to recognize what the unspoken patterns mean.

As we talked over dinner, I got to thinking…if evidence of our presence can be so clear through such ordinary items as the dishes we leave behind, or the particular way in which we wash, dry and arrange them, what about the rest of our lives? What kind of trail do I leave behind in the course of day? Do people see evidence of a Christ-like spirit? Do people see the fruit of prayer? Do they see signs of God’s love? In the course of my day-to-day life is there an unspoken pattern that bespeaks the presence and love of God?

Tonight, as Sr. Mary Adrian and I finished up the dishes and the last cycle was running, I pointed to the dishwasher and made the enigmatic statement, “That’s the thing.” And she knew just what I meant. It is shared language such as this that helps make a monastery a home for those of us who dwell here. And it is the shared language of God’s love that makes known His presence in the world. May we speak it clearly and un-enigmatically, our lives a sure sign of the presence of the One whose love is no secret at all.

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