“Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” I can see my 8-year-old self belting out the words to this old hymn along with the congregation in our little country church. The words disturbed me a little but like most people do, I camouflaged my innocence, and sang louder. Now I understand the meaning behind the song, and the words still fascinate me. What stains do people see when they look at my life? How do I clothe myself in cleanliness?
Living in Cincinnati has heightened my awareness of everything surrounding literal laundry. I like to say it's the soap dish of America because Ivory and Tide are treasured jewels in the Queen City's crown. People here take their laundry seriously. Really, we all should. After all, it can be life changing to accidentally wash a red shirt with the tighty-whities. And if you go into it sloppy and a dress corner gets caught in the dryer door, things can get in a terrible twist impossible of straightening out. The true test, however, has always been the level of optimum whiteness one can achieve.
There are several theories on how to obtain optimum fabric whiteness and thus allowing the launderer to experience domestic glory. Miracle solutions have been made from lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, dissolved aspirin, toothpaste, salt, and simple homemade lye soap and some elbow grease against a washboard (which today's physically fit youth strive for yet few know what it references.) Hyssop plant was the go to whitener in biblical times. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me; and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)
Natural sunlight has also long been a whitener, so if you are fortunate to live in a community without an HOA that prohibits clothes on the line, you might want to try it. Nothing says the good old days like fresh laundry on the line. My great aunts, the Balli Sisters, told how growing up they were putting out the wash when the twins they had to babysit kept trying to crawl away, so they hung the two babies on the clothes line until their mom put a stop to it. Even through their adult years the frugal “sustainable” Balli Sisters hung out their clothes because they believed the electric dryer, taking fibers out of the fabric, reduced the life of the clothes.
On a particularly riveting and exhausting day I'll often revive one of Mom's laundry sayings, “I feel like I've been put through the wringer!” The wringer, a not-so-technical piece of laundry equipment, was both genius and insanity. Garments were fed into the unforgiving rubber rollers which squeezed out all the water. If you treasured your fingers, it was wise to trust the turn crank to only your dearest friend or your favorite child—and heaven forbid if you went sideways in an unstoppable electric one! The bathhouse at Holly River State Park had a manual wringer so after an invigorating dip in the unheated pool (people pay lots of money for a similar experience nowadays and call it cryogenic therapy), we'd wait in line to run our dripping bathing suits into the wringer. You don't have to be hard pressed to understand Mom's metaphor...
Next time we feel like we've been put through the wringer, or our dirty laundry has just been aired, we can take heart. Jesus says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) Are my garments spotless? Are they hurt-your-eyes-white? Have I been washed in the redemptive blood of Jesus? If we consider the impossibility of blood leaving something spotless, we have just discovered the true Miracle Solution worth singing about.
Janet Cowger- Fliegel