A group of six novices does this task for a week at a time. Then we have two weeks off. Before our first time, the novice mistress gives us three guidelines for doing dishwashing perfectly: No talking. No noise. Treat the dishes as if they are vessels of the altar. Reverently. Gently.
Now this is, of itself, noisy work. Dishes clatter; metal doors clang; tray wheels squeak. Even more so when the work is done hurriedly so as to be completed before the bell rings.
To appreciate the stressfulness of this obedience, picture this:
At the end of a meal, the nuns use a small piece of bread to wipe off any food left on their plates. After the meal, we six dishwashers remove our scapulars and outer veils and don aprons. We each do, as quickly and noiselessly as possible, one of the six steps of dishwashing.
That is, we . . .
1) Gather and stack dirty dishes in refectory. Place stacks on tray. Wheel tray down hall, round corner, down second hall, into scullery.
2) Fill deep, metal, box-shaped sink with soapy water. Plunge stacked plates, cups, saucers, and desert bowls into soaking water. Remove dishes. Swipe with rag.
3) Place soapy dishes, one by one, in large, square, metal rack with six-inch sides and latticed bottom. Open side door of rinse “oven.” Push in rinse rack. Pull down door. Release lever to start rinse water. Immediately begin process again until all dirty dishes are washed.
4) Wait for scalding hot water to do its work. Open “oven” door on other side. Pull out rinse rack. Be careful not to burn hands. Move rack down metal track and around corner to drying area. Wipe dishes while waiting for next rack to rinse.
5) Wipe dishes. Stack on tray.
6) Return dishes to refectory. Place clean dishes on tables for use at next meal.
Making undue noise in the convent was evidence of carelessness—a culpa matter. The first time our group washes dishes, I stand ready at the end of the metal track. I carefully lift a plate from the rack. Wipe it dry. Place it reverently on the tray.
Aware of passing time, I wipe and stack a second plate. I carelessly clatter it against the first. I kneel to make culpa. I rise. Having lost time, I now grab another dish to wipe. I turn toward the tray and try to place it soundlessly on the stack. It clatters. I kneel. Make culpa. Rise. Clatter. Kneel. Rise. Clatter. Kneel. Rise.
Baffled by such foolishness, the five other novices mutter, “Stop it! Just wipe the dishes! We’ve got a class.” I put aside my thirst for perfection in all things and begin to clatter until all the dishes are wiped and put away.
From then on I become a dynamo wiper. Noisy but efficient. Of course, each evening of those seven days I am in the office of the novice mistress making culpa. I’ve discovered that it’s easier to make one culpa a day then to be quiet during that day’s three dishwashing sessions.
That woman thinks, rightly I suppose, that I’m incorrigible. And yet, she wants me to stay. Go figure.
And for a laugh about an assembly line, please double-click the following site. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uztA6JCKB4s&feature=related It’s Lucille Ball’s comedy routine I thought of each time I wiped dishes. I could hardly keep from laughing whenever I remembered her and Ethel. The only thing that could have made the routine funnier is Lucy making culpa!