A round robin family letter, the kind meant to keep families connected in normal times when coronavirus has nothing to do with being apart pops up in our inbox several times a year.
Cousins with blood thick enough to span miles and embrace in-laws, convene together in one compiled letter. Pages long, it’s like the Schroeder Quarterly News which keeps us up to date on who married whom, what babies were born and maybe how the worms ate the apples or late frost killed the tomatoes.
When we still lived in Italy the arrival of the family letter was like a lifeline. We held it high above the waves of language learning and cultural gaffs. It nourished our souls. My husband and I read it aloud. Three little girls and two needy parents gathered around like it was a warm fire on a cold night.
We imagined gardens dangling plants of green beans in Minnesota’s chill air. We could almost smell fresh bread baking in a Kansas oven and pictured tired arms cradling new baby-third-times-removed-cousins in Nebraska. People we’d never even met, embraced our hearts like blankets thrown out on Schroeder souls because the same DNA ran through our veins.
This month the letter arrived, Covid anemic, not the usual robust participation from the group. Cousin John, or to be more exact as a grafted in Schroeder, my Cousin-in-law John, whom none of us have seen for longer than some of my children have lived, wrote something that startled me, held me captive with its profound truth.
“We live in rapidly changing times, and it is fascinating to consider that the tiniest and simplest of living organisms has brought our world, in all its complex dimensions, to its knees…not terrorists, not an atomic bomb, and not a war…There is something very humbling about that. And to think that almost the only thing we can do to combat it is to do something we’ve been doing for centuries: wash our hands.” -John Dyck
“Did you wash your hands?” the words came automatically from me before every meal as the kids were growing up. I would turn from the stove or from chopping onions and look down as they lined up for inspection.
Little hands thrust toward me, a flash of now you see them, now you don’t.
“Nah-ah-ah, hold them out,” I’d insist.
Clean hands is a surprisingly relative term.
When I read the letter from first-cousin-in-law John, it struck me as an echo of a verse in James. First a disbeliever, James the brother of Jesus, became a leader in the Jerusalem church. He wrote to Jewish Christians in a letter named for him. Conflict brought factions to the family of believers. They didn’t see eye to eye. James admonished them with strong words.
“…Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8 (ESV)
A ghostly memory flashes of little hands held up, palms outstretched, over and under flipping like pancakes for inspection. I picture the mud lined fingernails. I see again how clean bordered at the wrists where pale ended and dirt began.
True repentance asks for palm-open posture that lays everything bare before a gracious Father
“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” James 4:9 (ESV)
Submission to the process of inward cleanliness can be like making a little boy take a bath or kids washing hands before a meal.
Deep anguish characterizes an honest revelation of sin’s debauchery in the light of Jesus’ holiness. True repentance asks for palm-open posture that lays everything bare before a gracious Father.
The lesson of washing our hands along with the imagery James evokes of purifying is one to cherish long past this unique time in history.
We begin our tip-toe back into routine with its uncertainty while the admonition remains strong, “wash your hands.”
Jesus offers clean hearts and pure souls.
Under a clear stream of water bathing my hands, may I remember through whatever fear or uncertainty remains, His grace pours over me day after day.
As I raise open palms, may my soul take a humble posture of pure worship.