Great Cloud of Witness Rains

I didn’t learn how to make sour dough bread, instead I’ve been filling my pandemic time with continuing education classes and recently completed a spiritual formation class. This class included readings, lectures, quiet time, and spiritual practices. Most of the classes I zoomed in from home, but the final class (yesterday) I zoomed in from church because I was meeting my co-leaders to work on the DFG project directly after class. In our final quiet time, I wasn’t sure which optional practice I wanted to try, so I figured I would put some flannel in the wash while I figured it out. I walked up the stairs and into the kitchen and as I approached the washing machine I burst into tears. I have no idea why. I wasn’t upset. And when I realized I wasn’t upset, I wondered who was. And a flood of feelings, images, phrases poured into my body as if the great cloud of witnesses suddenly started to rain. The image of two women washing dishes at the sink while one cried and the other wrapped her arm around her waist, an image of stained tea towels, and water on the floor. I could hear the washing machine but it seemed louder than usual. And the room seemed darker than usual. The feelings were hurt, anger, love, comfort, sadness sort of all at once and it was difficult to tell what I was feeling or if any of it was something I was feeling. Sort of like crying at a movie when the pain isn’t really yours (or anyones) because it’s something you’re watching not something that is happening to you. I also felt all alone and I felt like the kitchen was full of activity at the same time. And all of this happened in less than a minute. I went back downstairs and felt compelled to write down what was going through my head. I wrote quickly and some of it seemed to have a rhythm and then (ugh) some of it rhymes. Rhyming in writing is difficult, some of it sounds great and some of it sounds like nursery school babble. I took a picture of the journal, to blog and remember this moment and the space I wrote it in. My home office/sewing room has become a spiritual place for me and so has the DFG sewing room at church, and even that washing machine.

As I look back on it, some of the thoughts were mine, some were not, some may have been influenced by conversations I’ve had with other clergy women, I think the rhyming part may have been influenced by the prayer book I’ve been reading, some of it may have been influenced by “call the midwife” (I finished watching season 9 on netflix last week)… since writing it down, I’ve tried to explain away what happened and maybe it was all being made up in my over active imagination or maybe I stepped on a tile in front of the washing machine that is one of those thin spots where the veil between heaven and earth is very sheer. I can’t tell anymore. Anyway, I woke up this morning thinking I should blog about it before I loose my nerve to write about what happened and also I feel like I need to write it so I can stop thinking about it. So here it is:

How many times have I cried in front of the laundry machine?

or used checking the wash as an excuse to remove myself from a toxic conversation?

How many times have I fled the sanctuary to find safety in the humming machine in the dark corner of the kitchen?

I can leave the sermon critiques of too girly–why is it always about women — with the stained glass and find quiet and silence with coffee stained tea towels.

Because this is my real cell–the dark corner of the kitchen

Because my real prayers are said under the hum of thread. I’m at the sewing machine beach no one will interrupt a woman working.

Because here with his light and his right he wouldn’t bother to look because he can’t hear the prayers under the drum of the washing machine because he can’t see the difference between tears and spilled tea and because he doesn’t know the that the thing that’s bleeding is me

its me

its her

and the grandmother to be

we have all cried here and let go of lies here and found the strength to not lay down and die here

because there is work to do laundry to fold coffee to pour and friends to hold

So that was it, but I’ve been unpacking some of it since then…

I definitely have cried in front of this washing machine before, more than I care to admit. And I think other women have too. Probably also more than they would care to admit.

I have used the laundry as an excuse to leave the room, I’m not sure I would call it toxic and I don’t have a specific memory of a conversation that made me want to run either, but it felt true.

Most of the time my sermons seem to be well received, but it really only takes one troll to ruin it. Why does she always talk about women’s issues? was something I overheard. I wasn’t meant to but I did and it hurt. It hurt a lot. Too girly is not something I’ve heard directed at me, but I think its something I worry about and I know other women struggle with similar feelings in male dominated professions.

Cell is what monasteries call bed room/study space. That idea definitely sprung up from the spiritual formation classes. But it feels like the right word and I love the idea of a private place of prayer. Some of the people I’ve studied even refer to the cell in their own heart. A place to retreat, to pray, and to be with God. And lately the idea of darkness has been spiritually comforting. It reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylors book, learning to walk in the dark. And maybe the black madonna webinar I watched… pandemic time is weird, I’m not sure if it was last week or last month I watched that… it was before gifts of women Sunday because I referenced it in my sermon. Reclaiming blackness and darkness as good seems to be a womanist theologian view or part of the anti-racism work lately, but I can’t put my finger on an exact example now. I recently read a couple chapters of Austin Channing Brown’s I’m still here, Latasha Morrison’s Be the Bride and Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland, to decide which to do for our next book in adult forum, but I digress. It feels like an idea I picked up from Austin Channing Brown. I’ve been following her on instagram too. Anyway, all that to say that the dark cell feels holy, warm, comforting, loving, safe, and beautiful.

Seriously, people are afraid to interrupt while I’m sewing (especially non-sewists). Maybe they are afraid I will sew my finger if they startle me. Although, in fairness, I’ve been very startled before because I was so lost in thought that perhaps people just don’t want to make me jump. There are lots of people who care about me. And honestly, sewing looks more like working than reading so people are less likely to interrupt sewing than reading. I think it’s because most people read for fun so they forget that I read for work. And in polite society we don’t interrupt people who seem busy working but we feel free to interrupt leisure activities. Which is a stupid thing I hope all of us can stop after the pandemic. Clearly, leisure time, sick leave, mental health days, are more important than work. Stop giving up that time, stop interrupting that time. It is holy too. And seriously, it is easier to pray while you are doing something most people won’t interrupt…like sewing, and no one knows you’re praying while you’re sewing. We expect prayer to look a certain way, but head bowed and hands folded is only one way to pray.

The section about his light and his right. I’m not sure where this came from exactly. I think it’s sort of a man in the spot light or holding a spotlight to point out what is right, but he misses some of the truth, and what feels like the most important part of the truth. This guy is a real jerk. His way or no way. He doesn’t understand nuances of ministry and he doesn’t understand what women go through and what women hide. Either forced to hide or expect to hide or conditioned to hide… things like crying and menstruation and hurt feelings so we don’t get called emotional and irrational. And yet, other women can see each other and the things we hide. We know the difference between tears of hurt feeling and ‘allergies’ and we notice that ‘allergies’ occur as a shield or a lie to hide the hurt. “her, me and the grandmother to be”, yeah, I have no idea who those people are but it came out of my head and my pen so fast and it sounded true and also like an embarrassing nursery rhyme. Cried here, let go of lies here, found strength not to give up and die here… here is in front of the washing machine for sure, that was the image while I was wiring those words, but it is also the sewing room, and it is also other places women gather to support one another.

And that last line is so true. I have seen so many women wipe tears and get right back to work and pretend that they hadn’t just been crying. It’s safe to say we all do this. Wipe the tears, find inner strength or borrow strength from a friend and just keep going. This is women’s work, this is women’s ministry.

I feel better now that this is out. And I feel like I could go through those lines I wrote and find other meaning and symbols too. Very Julian of Norwich. The experience and the writing was so rich with meaning for me I’m not sure I have captured it all yet. And maybe I’m not meant to yet.

So, here it is on the blog, a very public journal (although I really have no idea if anyone is reading this, the data is so weird and unpredictable) and I don’t invite comments often, but if you are reading this, leave a comment or a thought or a paragraph or whatever. I invite you to enter into this holy practice with me. Because this is women’s work and women’s ministry to build community.

3 thoughts on “Great Cloud of Witness Rains

  1. As soon as I hit publish, I realize this sort of reminds me of Teresa of Avila who talked about prayer as watering a garden, first you bring water by bucket and its hard work, then you have a pump or water wheel and its easier, then you can have the garden growing by a stream (like irrigation) and then sometimes it rains. The rain is what God is doing with us and the other forms of prayer are what we are doing to prepare for the rain. The great cloud of witness rained down yesterday for sure and God rained (and reigns). Thanks be to God.


  2. A friend of mine once commented that for her ‘quilting is a meditative act’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree. The days for girls stuff can be sometimes too.


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