Don’t hold jars by the lid! If the lid is loose, the jar will fall. I speak from experience. When the loose lid slipped last week, almost a cup of rice scattered before I caught the jar.
“Arrrgghh!” I cried as I stood there barefoot in the kitchen, grain all around my feet.
“Stay right where you are,” said my wife, who grabbed broom and dustpan and quickly swept around my toes as I lifted first one tickled foot and then the other and then moved out of the way so she could finish her work. Soon, once again, the kitchen was shipshape and orderly. The Third Law of Thermodynamics was temporarily reversed — if only locally.
In most households, that would have been the end of it, but not in mine. I not only appreciated the work my wife was doing (neither of us sweep the kitchen floor very often), but I also appreciated the appearance of my wife working, the way her orange blouse and the yellow broom handle were set off by the blue cabinets, the bright red stove, and the brown oak floor. Since this photographer had a smartphone in his pocket, and since he was otherwise standing there useless, he took a series of photos of the cleanup in action.
In most photographer households, that would have been the end of it, but not in mine. Having photographed, I feel compelled to think deeply about the ritual in which we were immersed, the idea that we can return things to normal, the idea that, if we clean up our messes and others clean up theirs, the world will be a decent place, and we will have done our duty.
Needless to say, my thoughts did not have to get more than an inch or two below the surface to see how foolish that idea is. I imagine there are some self-help gurus who will claim that cleaning up is essential to a better life, that it is the hallmark of an enlightened way of living, that sweeping the floors makes one want to sweep away the debris in one’s mind, in one’s habits, in one’s soul: a surefire means to enlightenment. Nonsense!
Scrub your soul all you want, it is still going to be dust-laden, greasy and grimy, unless it is somehow otherwise redeemed. And a clean world? It can be squeaky clean but still be horrific. No, cleanliness is not the answer. It is hardly sufficient.
And there is not just our mess to clean up. There is the mess left over from the centuries before us, the millennia going back to Adam and Eve. Who is going to clean up all that?
Most deep thinkers would leave it there, but not me. Much to my dismay, my mind has to enter into the realm of parable and try to make something profound of the slipped jar and the spilled rice. What if the grains of rice represent our souls, initially clean and bright? What happens when they fall to the floor? Will God pull out a mighty broom? Will God sweep up the fallen rice along with the dirt and the dust and dump them all into some black hole of a trash can, never to be heard from again? If this is how we treat spilled rice, can we expect better from God?
Actually, I do. We may fear a God who disposes of the fallen like we do, but the Good News tells us otherwise. We are beloved, not the way we value a single grain of rice, but the way a mother or father loves its own flesh and blood, but even better. Crawling on the floor, poop in our diapers, dust-laden, greasy and grimy, we are loved.
I wonder what’s for supper? Is it my turn to cook?