Jesus Smells Like Murphy’s Oil Soap
I don’t know why I came.
Many reasons, I suppose—obligation, guilt, habit.
Whatever it is, I give up my Saturday morning for it. Meet this ragtag group to pitch in and clean up our church. I drag the boys along too—tell my husband something about building character, about how they need to learn to give back.
Now, my twelve-almost-thirteen stands beside me, both arms pulled inside his t-shirt.
Haven’t I felt the chill inside this sanctuary?
He looks glumly at me with that expression that causes my jaw to clench. The blood pressure creeps up. I know he is waiting for me to tell him what to do. Exactly what to do. And I wonder to myself for the millionth time, just when does initiative kick in?
The answer appears in front of me in shape of his younger brother. The small one struggles underneath a heavy pew cushion. It’s his nature to help, to jump right in and recognize what needs doing. Big brother needs more direction.
I dip the rag into the bucket of cleaning solution, demonstrate what to do and try to ignore the irritation. I break it down slowly: the dipping of rag, wringing out, moving of it across the wood.
He just stands there. Stares. He doesn’t want this job. It will require him to remove his arms from his shirt.
And it’s too cold.
Someone is running the vacuum and the noise is so loud we have to shout to hear each other. I excuse myself and stand alone in the hall. I lean against the wall and breathe. What is wrong with me? Why is this getting to me so much?
I don’t have to dig deep to find the answer.
I have struggled to love this church. In the past few years there have been too many hurtful words, too much resistance to my husband’s ministry, too much of what Jesus hates.
I feel little affection for these walls. I have watched fledgling faith wings be clipped by words and actions of supposedly “mature” Christians. I have felt the weight of their judgment. All these months and no apologies. There is to be no righting of these wrongs. Not on this side of eternity.
But here we are, our entire family giving up our free morning together to do more church work. I can’t help noting that “those” people are not doing the same.
I wonder if it is time to leave. Haven’t we tried? Three long years and still we fight. I am tired.
I feel the beginnings of bitterness begin to creep into my heart, and it is like poison entering my body. Just the tiniest drop and it moves through my blood like a virus—I feel helpless to stop it. I feel so helpless.
Jesus help me.
There’s nothing for it. I must set the example, after all. I do what a mature Christian does. I go back into the sanctuary and continue wiping down pews. The boys are removing all the hymnals and Bibles from their pockets, making the path straight for my washing. It’s a good job for them—keeps them moving. They stack the books up on the floor—sacred word-towers.
I dip, wring, wipe. I am rubbing away the dirt.
In this rhythm, the virus slows. I feel the tension in my jaw and shoulders release. The air smells clean and something tugs at the strings of my heart. This scent—this oily lemony aroma—stirs a memory. I close my eyes and let the memory have a face. This gleaming wood under my hand speaks a forgotten story. I begin to sing under cover of the hum of vacuum. There is beauty here. There is beauty under my hands.
I pick up some gum wrappers. Find a small plastic animal. It makes me smile. I think of the individuals who sit in these pews. Faces come to mind—faces of those I love. This plain piece of wood has cradled a broken and bruised body. This plain piece of wood has been the only place of healing…the only place of unity.
My wiping becomes a caress and I remember. This morning, hands dripping with Murphy’s Oil Soap, I remember.
And love grows between these walls.