It took me most of a lifetime to find Sophia in the kitchen sink.
It doesn’t help that my mother, a brilliant woman who’d studied with Alfred Adler in Vienna, relinquished a promising career to keep house and raise me. As I see it at fifteen or sixteen, she wasted her life on ironed pillow cases and clean dishes.
Luckily, the hippie world is waiting. By the mid-1970’s I have a bearded husband, two small children and a ramshackle house in upstate New York. For a while we go off the grid: wood stove, 1/4 acre garden, goats. We pay for gasoline and our $29/month mortgage by renting out extra rooms in our rambling house and doing odd jobs. Household responsibilities are meant to be shared but it doesn’t really work out that way. I do the cooking and the cleaning, torn between the romance of the back to the land movement (remember Alicia Bay Laurel’s book, Living on the Earth?) and the rhetoric of the women’s movement.
By the time I find myself pregnant with my third child, I’m in graduate school and teaching elementary school full-time. Housework is delegated or done as quickly as possible. Everyone is busy. A divorce follows, then remarriage and a blended family: two jobs, 5 growing kids. My mother moves in. We get a dishwasher and a part-time housekeeper. The kids have chores they sulk about. Tom, my new husband, does the outside work and the big jobs, and joy of joys!!! He cooks!
Years pass. The kids grow up. My mother dies. Then, a dozen years ago or so, while alternating reading Alice O. Howell’s The Dove in the Stone with painting the kitchen, I’m blessed with a moment of satori. The central message of the book, something I’d understood intellectually for decades, sinks into my cells.
Everything is sacred. Every thing is sacred.
That is Sophia, the sparkle in things, the living wisdom of the manifest, the reflection of the ineffable in the effable.
In Love and the World, Robert Sardello says,
Sophia, the unity of the all, is not to be understood as a dissolving of the particularity and multiplicity of the world, the many becoming one, but rather of the many as one.
A few more years go by before the new understanding penetrates my routine thought patterns, but one day it comes to me that I can choose to like washing the dishes instead of feeling resentful that it’s me doing them again. The dishes and the process of washing them is sacred, too.
I start by paying attention to the parts I like: the feeling of warm water on my hands, the satisfaction I find in arranging the shiny clean utensils and pots and pans in the drainer, the tidiness of the clean counter and sink. The preciousness of water becomes more and more obvious as California’s record drought continues. I develop a washing system that is efficient and pleasurable. I draw in family and friends and washing up becomes a pleasant social time. When the dishwasher breaks I have no desire to spend money fixing it. I like washing the dishes.
This is how to tend Sophia: by paying attention to her, by loving her.
The first real rain we’ve had in thirteen months is falling as I write. The relief the rain brings, even though it’s far from enough to end this apocalyptic drought, is truly marvelous: the release of long-held stress in my body, my mind and my heart. A couple days ago a new moon rose, in Aquarius this month, the second new moon in a month, a super-moon. The Chinese year of the green wood horse is here, a year of dynamic new growth after five years of degeneration and dissolution.
May the new growth spawned this year be in appreciating the value of maintenance, of attention and love put into caring for the things we have instead of into acquiring more, into recognizing the treasure in our own back yard.