Quakers talk a lot about Light: Light Within, Inner Light, Light of Christ, etc. Growing up, I never paid particular attention to the quality of light or how it changed, season by season. (Who did?) Indeed, the first time I consciously acknowledged that sunlight moved from room to room, I was twenty-five years old, living in West Hartford, Connecticut, pregnant, and for the first time in my life able to spend my time doing things like baking bread and reading about breast-feeding and natural childbirth. I shared a sunny, second floor apartment with my husband—off working—and a grey tiger tabby named Canopus. Whose catnaps, I noticed, followed the sunshine. Oh! (Duh.) And maybe ten years later, at a gallery on Boston’s Newbury Street at an exhibit of American impressionists, I suddenly realized that I could identify when the paintings’ New England coastal or farm scenes had taken place without reading anything, simply by the quality of their painted light. Which, apparently I had been unconsciously noting my entire life. “I know this light!” (Besides, who does light better than the Impressionists?)
This past week, I found myself on a stepladder in the kitchen wiping down the dusty, greasy potholder rack over the stove. Scrubbing the floor under the stove. Vacuuming under upholstered chairs and behind the couch. Okay, so people were coming, always a nudge to clean. Okay, so my husband’s been coughing and congested for much too long so reducing allergens is prudent. Okay, so it’s bitter cold; vigorous housecleaning is a great substitute for my daily long walks.
But when I took a moment to look outside, I realized that, yes, the light was early-spring light. Lenten light. My cleaning was an ablution, “a ritual washing or cleaning associated with religious observance.”