My furthest memory of an ironing board was that of a place to crawl under and imagine myself being hid in a space between the kitchen and living room. My mother pressed many things so the ironing board could not be folded up and put too far away. In those days it was not uncommon for me to see her ironing my brother's under shirts, us girls' bras, and even socks. Pillowcases were ironed and placed in a tri-fold until taken out on Saturdays when bed linens were changed and washed. Of course, in those days the irons weren't the magical steam spouting light weight appliances of today. They were heavy and sat on a metal stand at the end of the board along with the misting bottle and spray starch. It was quite a chore for our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers but there was something about watching a woman iron and starch a shirt for someone she loved that appeared sacramental.
Last night I was ironing my husband's shirts and began thinking about my life around the ironing board. I have my mother's board which keeps reminding me on occasion that wood does not last through too many lifetimes. Soon it's springs will stretch too far and its wood piece that catches on a large tack of some sort and holds up the board itself will no longer catch and it will not be able to stand. It, like the women who have appreciated its usefullness, will have to go away and within a few generations be forgotten.
There was another time this past year that I was standing at the ironing board pressing a man's shirt. It was a beautiful lavender colored shirt that belonged to my son in law. He had died suddenly a few days before and I had asked my daughter if I could take the clothes he would be buried in and press them for him. I knew how much he liked his clothes to look clean and pressed when he was dressing for work or other special occasions. It was the last act of kindness that I could give to him. In the time it took me to press his shirt, pants, and tie I felt the holiness of God that comes with loving someone to death. This ironing was a simple act but it was an act placed in the spiritual realm of "doing unto others".
As I recalled this moment last evening I wondered if I had also pressed my mother's green dress that was chosen for her burial or if she, maybe, had pressed her mother's dress or my grandfather's dress shirt, pants, and tie. I also couldn't help but wonder who else's clothes I may iron for this same purpose and who it will be that will lovingly press mine. Sacraments are like that. They can wash away sin and initiate like that of baptism or they can sanctify and make ready like that of annointing of the sick. Their holy and life changing grace comes from our loving Father in Heaven who abundantly gives to us ways in which we can be in relationship to and reach Him. The saints who have left their legacy of wisdom for us assure us that anyone who opens themselves up to God's goodness within these earthly activities, even that of ironing, will surely discover a depth of holiness that exists within the very act.
St. Paul challenges all of Christ's faithful followers to learn to pray ceaselessly. With my mother at her ironing board during the course of so many of her life's challenges and happy moments I am sure that prayers are embedded within the grain of its wood. I know that when I stand by its side and I shake out a uniform shirt for one of my children or I begin pressing my husband's shirts for work, or tablecloths to be used to bring color to the spring gardens I can feel my spiritual self coming forth slowing down the busyness of my day and bringing to me deep thoughts of life and God. May God be praised for its utility, its memories, and the many prayers prayed at its side.