I’m thinking about laundry this morning, specifically the necessity of working really hard to get spots off clothes – usually new ones that I’ve just worn for the first or second time. It would be nice to just drop a little bleach on the salad dressing or beet juice or whatever has created the offending stain, but that only means total ruin of the garment. It might have helped the biblical fuller though – the one from the third chapter of Malachi (3:2) where “the one who is to come” will be like the refiner’s fire or like the fuller’s lye. I remember from my childhood that lye soap was the strongest kind, used in the big laundry sink where clothes got really scrubbed on the washboard. It’s a vague memory, blotted out by modern conveniences like a wringer-less washing machine and every kind of spot remover possible to human invention. Our lives have been made easier in lots of ways but it would be unfortunate to lose the meaning of this analogy in Malachi’s prophecy.
I understand the process of what happens in a refinery to produce pure gold or silver – leaving the dross behind in that hottest of hot fires. Less easy to comprehend, perhaps, in this age of progress is the work of the fuller, who not only scrubbed and picked at the material (usually wool, I think) but beat it with a stick or some other hard object to get out all the natural oils and impurities before weaving or selling it.
I think, as I look back on my life, there have been times of significant growth occasionally brought on by the pain that can accompany purification in some way. More often, however, it is simply life experience that has taught me the lessons necessary to moving deeper in consciousness. I’ve missed some of the signs along the way, but those are the times when something more blatant happens to wake me up and helps me to let go of what holds me bound. Interestingly, as I get older, the fire seems less hot and the lye less abrasive or caustic as I welcome rather than resist the refining as a step closer to “the finished product.”
I think that might just be one of the things that Jesus came to teach us, so that as we welcome him on Sunday, we do it with an openness and a willingness to learn the hard lessons. In the end, that should stand us in good stead to greet God as brilliant garments wrapped in purest gold.