The Clothes Line

Tuesday was almost a perfect line-drying day--hot, sunny, and windy. You could have put a soaked sheepskin out on the line late in the morning, and if the wind didn't tear it loose and take it tumbling down to the creek, it would have been bone-dry by mid-afternoon. I scrounged enough dirty clothes for a small load, even though we'd caught up on the laundry on the weekend. I almost wished I had a whole big basketful of towels and jeans to wash, just to honour the line-drying weather.

I said "almost a perfect line-drying day": but in fact, it was too windy. Try to put sheets or bathtowels out on the line in this weather and you'd find them flipped over the upper line and twisted into knots. The wind was wild. It bowed down the young poplars at the west edge of my property; it made the Manitoba maple dance and writhe; it blew big ripples through the tall grass down where the vegetable garden used to be. It whipped my drying denim sundresses so hard that all the wrinkles fell out of them. It buffeted my face with a warm surge that had a ton of force behind it. Oh, it was windy.

As I pinned out the dishtowels, I thought again of the Holy Spirit: how I tend to think of Her as a gentle sort of Person, the softest of breezes, whispering, suggesting. But in fact, the Spirit can be a gale: exigeant, ungentle. As Martin Smith remarks, once you let the Holy Spirit take up residence, you find that He quite casually breaks up the furniture for firewood, rips up the carpet, rearranges the cupboards in ways that you do not, at least initially, prefer. The Holy Spirit can be insistent, trying, appalling, demanding. She expects us to have and to listen to visions and dreams, and these sometimes bid us in directions that are frankly startling --even frightening--and that often roil up the existing order. He may be the Comforter, but She is by no means comfortable.

No wonder, then, that in the past we downplayed the Spirit--indeed, erected (for practical Monday-to-Saturday purposes) a somewhat different working Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Mother Church. Holy Mother was a comfortable, solid, established sort of person, a matriarch who'd make sure that the children ate their vegetables and played nicely, and who knew that Mother knows best, even when Mother's logic seems a little foggy. Unlike the Holy Spirit, Holy Mother wouldn't rock the boat too much and could be expected to uphold the existing order of things as God-ordained and proper. Holy Mother had all the answers, so that we didn't have to make our little heads hurt by thinking for ourselves and possibly getting the answers wrong. And Holy Mother took a dim view of all this inspirational stuff--"enthusiastic religion" was practically a four-letter word in 18th-century Anglicanism. It was unsettling, It might even be *dangerous*.

I'm not fleering at church tradition. It's very human to want to set something to stand as a sort of wall between us and this incontrovertible Spirit-gale that forever threatens to tumble us ass-over-teakettle, wrecking our dignity, smashing what we thought were truths. It's very human to want institutions that practice what always worked in the past--as long as we get to keep the traditions we like, like really good liturgy, and don't have to keep the traditions we don't like, like tithing. As my favourite theologian points out, our setting Church in the Holy Spirit's place goes right back to the very beginning. When Jesus showed himself transfigured to his disciples, how did they react? By wanting to set up nice institutional tents, where Jesus could be properly worshipped in the approved style.

And how did Jesus respond? He said "no" to their offer and took them off to Jerusalem, for the most radical act of all --the most absolute plunge into complete chaos, with no guarantee that it would all come round right in the end.

I like tradition myself, as long as I get to pick and choose. I too like things to be settled and predictable. The wind blowing around my laundry was warm and strong, but I thought of my roof shingles and worried if I'd left anything out that could be damaged. It was exhilarating; it was also a little scary.

I like tradition.... but then there comes that sharp buffet between the shoulderblades, that quick shove that you can't ignore, much as you'd like to: those dreams, that vision that compels you forward. You're always given the choice to say yes or no to God, but once you've said yes, you may very well find yourself tumbled away by the wind and fetching up in places you never expected to be. That's what the Spirit does.

The laundry was dry within half an hour. I went to get it--and the old laundry line, the one I've used for the last ten years or so, broke with a snap. Presumably it had been weakening for a long time and this wind, whipping the laundry around, had pushed it just that small bit further.

Spirit, I give you permission to keep chasing me around my life, buffeting me, tumbling me, and taking me wherever it is that you want me to go. I won't even ask you to place nice. You know me well enough to know what I can manage.

Shall we be off and running?

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Fri, 22 Jun 2001
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