Saturday, December 28, 2013

An Artist in the Laundry of the World

OK, I’m back! Now, it’s still Christmas, right? Our house has been filled with guests this year, celebrating the feast with us, and one of them remarked to me how wonderful it was to be in a place where Christmas began on December 25 and kept going until Epiphany. Yes, indeed. And since this blog is written on Madonna House time, I will keep on with some Christmas themed material for the next little bit. Because it’s still Christmas, whatever the secular world might have to say about the matter.

I want to share with you one of the great gifts we received in MH this year. I don’t have a photograph of it (will add one later if I can get my hands on it), unfortunately. We have a long term guest with us now who is quite an accomplished artist. Her art often consists in fashioning discarded items, the refuse and detritus of our over-stuffed society, into beautiful art pieces.

This has proved to be a challenge for her in MH, where nothing gets thrown out until it is really, truly junk. But she was assigned to our laundry, and found there the material she needed to fashion a complete crèche set.

Namely, dryer lint. And scraps of fabric, themselves too worn and frayed even for patches. And a broken, torn rubber glove. And a rubbishy pair of coveralls. Other materials came from various sources: candy wrappers and a melted piece of aluminum. And from these odd bits of nothing she fashioned an exquisitely beautiful manger scene, complete with camel and horse, sheep, angel, star (that was the melted metal). The magi’s gifts are shaped from the candy wrappers. All the figures are made of pieces of dryer lint cunningly layered and fashioned and shaped, and clothed in bits and pieces of cloth. The blanket on the camel is from the rubber glove.

It sounds cheesy and tacky; it is, in fact, exquisitely delicate and beautiful. Hauntingly beautiful, indeed, with its subdued gray palette and odd piecemeal composition. I will indeed add a picture of it as soon as I can.

Now the moral of the story could be, ‘Well, ya put an artist in the laundry and this is what ya get!’ But today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, and I think there is a deeper word yet being spoken here.

Some people are, or seem to be, marble, gold, fine wood, stone, stained glass. Some are simply born with some measure of wealth, health, beauty, intelligence, charm, privilege. Some lives are clearly ordained to make something beautiful from the very beginning. But some are, or at least feel themselves to be, basically dryer lint. Rags. Discarded candy wrappers. A melted slag of metal. Fit for nothing but to be thrown aside. Not wanted, and so nothing, useless, trash. The poor of the world, but that poverty can take manifold forms.

Disposable waste, ‘lives not worth living’, as the Nazis termed them (and no, I don’t think we’re all that far from the Nazis in our enlightened world today). Lint. But if there is an artist in the laundry… something else happens. And as it turns out, there is an Artist in the world’s laundry, and that’s kind of the whole point of Christmas, isn’t it?

The Holy Innocents were babies who posed a threat to the status quo, and so had to be killed. So many millions of babies are killed today because they pose a threat to the status quo. And the tragedy of abortion in our day is that so very many of the women who seek abortion are themselves in desperate straits, themselves poor and disadvantaged, themselves have quite often been treated as disposable matter, ‘dryer lint,’ candy wrappers to be cast aside once the inner sweetness has been exhausted.

And there are so many lives blighted by this same spirit of disposability, this same contempt and scorning of human dignity. The poor, the wretched, the disfavored in various ways, the victims of the world, the losers.

Can something beautiful come out of these lives? Can these lives, too, be fashioned into a manger, a shepherd, a mother, a father, an angel, a star? Can the candy wrapper become a gift of gold, the threadbare rag a swaddling cloth for the Baby?

Only if an Artist is at work among us can this be possible. But this is my Christmas word for all of you. There is such an artist, and He is at work in the world. And beauty can break out in the strangest places, from the most unlikely material. The Holy Innocents, mere victims of a ruthless cruel tyrant, whose lives were brutally ended before they could even begin, are honored as saints of God, and there is a deep word of life and truth here for all of us.

God came to make each life something beautiful. God did this strange, strange thing we call the Incarnation, so that a power is at work in the world, the power of the Holy Spirit, and wherever there is an opening, the Spirit is at work drawing together, layering, shaping, folding, arranging, to make this life, this person, these circumstances a thing of beauty.

Someone asked me, on Christmas Day, ‘Where is God when the s--- goes down?’ (yes, I am now quoting Insane Clown Posse lyrics – and for those who don’t know what I’m talking about – good!). But that’s where God is when the s--- goes down. He is right there in it, and in it to make of it something hauntingly, exquisitely, devastatingly beautiful. Only an Artist can do that, and that kind of artistry and beauty has been our great Christmas gift at MH this year. Factually, the Artist Himself has gifted us that way every day of every year, and yes, it is radiantly, triumphantly beautiful.

Added: a photo of the creche. I must say, though, the photo doesn't quite do justice to it. But here it is, nonetheless:


  1. Happy Christmas to you!

    Could this crèche be more beautiful than your words?

    Bless you!

    1. And to you! You would love this woman - she's very much a Catholic radical artist/poet type. I hope I can get a decent pic of the creche - it is really gorgeous, but might not photograph well (all those greys and earth tones might blend together...). Blessed 2014 to you.

    2. Computer was on the fritz over Christmas Season so catching up now, I found the "Laundry Creche!" It is so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes when I finally deciphered that it was more than a pile of Laundry! It is stunning in simplicity and a delightful surprise.It reminds me of an incident long forgotten by me but brought to mind by this creche. Christmas over 40 years ago I was young, married and pregnant with my first Born. I had no money for a really lovely store bought creche I'd wanted so I made my own out of dough! I placed it in the dining room. A young Jewish man a friend of my husband from work came to dinner one night in December and asked me what it was. I explained the Christmas Tradition of the creche to him. He was so was moved by it he said he would buy it from me the next week for $100. He returned after thinking about it and said he'd changed his mind but when my Baby was born he bought me a Baby carrier wrap which sold for $100 at that time. He didn't buy the Crib scene, he didn't become Christian but he was touched by the whole "Baby" idea at a time when Abortion was mounting in common acceptance. My crib scene made him aware of the beauty of awaiting a Very Precious Baby.


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