A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Mary in the Laundry

by Maria Kennedy

by Maria Kennedy

On the window sill of our laundry sits a statue of Our Lady. It’s not even a proper statue. It’s a plastic moulded bottle in the shape of Our Lady of Lourdes and it has a pin-sized hole in the bottom. On one side of the statue sits a pink plastic peg and on the other a box of snail pellets.

I have grown fond of Mary being in the laundry. Sometimes I pick a flower for her and say hi. I feel a small joy and a warm feeling spreads inside me as if Mary and I have exchanged smiles. At other times I have apologised to Mary. The laundry isn’t a flash place to put my reminder of the Queen of Heaven. Because the laundry is open plan with the kitchen you could say Mary is in there as well. But I consider Mary is in the laundry. And so I apologise to Mary for her humble surroundings but I don’t shift her either.

It’s not that I deliberately put Mary in the laundry. The Lourdes bottle had a leak and it couldn’t be given away with Lourdes water. Instead of throwing it out I put it on the window sill. I don’t know about you but I have trouble throwing out holy things. The rubbish seems such an unholy place to put them, even cheap, plastic, leaking, Lourdes bottles. Instead the laundry window sill has become my accidental Marian shrine.

While I like Mary being on the window sill, I never considered that Mary might like being there too, right in the heart of the domestic work centre of the house. I preferred not to consider the question apart from the occasional apology which assumes that I think Mary might not like being there or probably more to the truth that other people might not think well of me for putting Mary there. However when I read Kieran Fenn’s Marian article (Sept Wel-com, issue 309, and this issue of the Marist Messenger), one sentence in particular stood out for me, and it made me face that little blind spot of mine:

It could be said that a Mary that is isolated from life is not a Mary for today.

Sentences like that have a way of pulling the rug out from under your feet. It opens the possibility that the Lourdes bottle rather than ending up on the window sill haphazardly, had Mary’s hand in it. Put me on the window sill and let washing become your prayer. In this scenario Mary is choosing to be on the window sill so she can be where I am working. She isn’t frowning; rather she is smiling at me. We are like two washer women scrubbing the clothes clean and exchanging happy chatter as we go. It’s a two way exchange. Mary is as happy to be there as I am, or even happier. Laundry

It’s not that Mary talks to me in the laundry. I am not hearing voices! It’s simply a happy hello, a good feeling, an inner joy that rises up in me when I think I am thinking of her. Yet maybe it’s not all me. Perhaps Mary is drawing me to prayer and maybe it’s mainly her. Mary is celebrating with me as I am being affirmed in my calling from God to care of my family. She isn’t some far-off figure on a pedestal as Fenn warns us about, but someone close, loving and happy to be right where I am, right there in the middle of my chores.

However, being affirmed in and celebrating the work of the household isn’t very trendy. It gives me pause to think. The care of family is placed before me as an important and prime calling and that even the simple chore of the family washing has a far greater value in God’s eyes than I can ever hope to understand. I think that is what Mary in the laundry is pointing out to me. And when as house carers (male and female) we get sick of those seemingly thankless, repetitive tasks – apart from taking a break as we all need to every now and then – it is good to remind ourselves that these ordinary tasks have an extraordinary value in bringing grace to our hearts, co-operating with God to bring nurture to our families and healing the world like salt to a wound by a small action of love.

Well this insight doesn’t change the fact that laundry is still laundry. It still doesn’t feel glamorous and the world does not clamour after it. But the Lourdes statue will stay where it is and I will stop apologising to Mary for putting her there between the stray pegs and box of snail pellets. She is reminding me of my calling and smiling with me as I get on with this simple, God-given task. 

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