Soap is about as common as it gets. Most of us, maybe even all of us, use it numerous times every day without thinking about it. It’s in our showers, kitchens, bathrooms, and garages. There is liquid soap and then all different kinds of bar soap. Some people even make their own soap.
Do we ever stop and just look at our soap?
“Noticing and quietly commemorating the smaller moments that are a constant rhythm of the everyday continues to be a preoccupation in my work.” – Honor Freeman
Soap certainly fits the bill.
It was the ordinariness of soap that made me stop when I saw a picture of her ceramic soap work. I almost felt as if I was looking at soap for the very first time (which is ironic seeing that I wasn’t actually looking at soap). I stared at the colors, cracks, rounded edges, the misshapen bars, and how they all have similar qualities but are very different.
When I did a bit of research on the artist hoping to learn more about her, I came across the quote above about commemorating the smaller moments; I felt as if she confirmed my reaction to her work.
Internally I loudly proclaimed
Freeman’s friends gave her used bars of soap to recreate. She used her own bars of used soap as well. This gave each bar of soap a unique history. Each bar had been acted upon by someone. It could perhaps tell us a bit about the person who uses it if we are perceptive enough that is.
Why write about ceramic soap?
This exhibition offers many points from where we can begin thinking about the spiritual life and the person.
For starters, soap is indeed very common. It is often in the common moments though that we encounter God. We become so accustomed to and even obsessed with, always having to have some huge experience of God. We want God to be in a strong wind, a ground rattling earthquake or towering flames. We don’t think of looking for and finding God in the small breeze.
Don’t forget about the story of the Holy Prophet Elijah meeting God at Mount Horeb. Elijah encountered God in a still small voice that some translations call a gentle breeze. It is this small breeze, this still small voice where the encounter with God is so immediate that Elijah is forced to cover his face in the presence of the Lord’s holiness.
And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
We feel as if we can only encounter God in certain places and at certain times. I’ve known of many people who feel like they can only pray at church. If you are with them and they feel the need for prayer, they say that they have leave wherever they are and find a church. Now the church building is ideal for prayer; there is no denying that. If you can, go and pray in church. God is, however, present everywhere and filling all things. Included in these things are the ordinary. Pray where you are, in the ordinary places and ordinary situations of your life.
Seeing Freeman’s work on soap and calling attention to soap reminds us to call attention to all the ordinary moments of our lives. Ordinary moments exactly like the moments where we are washing our hands. Washing our hands offers us, as with any other neutral and ordinary moment, a time for holiness, a time to grow closer to God. Every moment has the opportunity for transfiguration built into it.
Seeing just one of the overlooked objects that we encounter daily can raise awareness of all of the objects we come into contact with and take for granted. It gives us new eyes with which to view the world. If we use these eyes to work towards seeing the sacred in each moment, then we may be granted with the beautiful gift of eyes to see.
How about the cracks in the soap?
It was the cracks in the ceramic soap that seemed to give it the authenticity of appearing as a real used bar of soap. I recognized the cracks but had never once thought about them. I had a feeling I knew what caused the cracks but only had a 99% probability of being right, so I had to research the topic. I was correct. The cracks in soap are indeed caused by a drying out of the soap. The cracks become larger over time and can also grow larger when there is the back and forth of absorbing moisture and drying out.
Thinking about soap eventually led me to the heart. Our hearts are a lot like soap concerning cracking. When we are living out our faith, engaging in the virtuous life, and open to accepting the dew of grace into our heart, we have fertile ground. This fertile ground is moist and thus malleable.
When we stop praying and begin to live counter to the way in which God is calling us to live, the dew of grace begins to withdraw. This withdrawal leaves the heart dry and hard. We often hear the phrase ‘hard of heart.’ The hardness of our heart keeps it from being shaped and molded by God. Hardness of heart causes lack of faith and likewise comes from a lack of faith.
Remember in the Gospel of Mark when the disciples only had one loaf of bread and were worried because they had forgotten the rest. Jesus tries to teach them about the leaven of the Pharisees, but the disciples do not understand.
“Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” (Mark 8:17-19)
The disciples did not have eyes to see and were hard of heart.
Let us pray for each other that we will use this beautiful example of ceramic soap to direct us to the ordinary and everyday items and moments which can help us attain sanctity. Let’s remember that all moments come with a built-in opportunity for transfiguration and holiness.
Let us allow soap, especially when cracked, to be a call to conversion for us. May it remind us of the importance of the heart and God’s grace. May soap call us time and time again, as often as we see it, to become a cause for refocusing ourselves in the ways we have fallen from the path of righteousness.
Soap can teach us all these things and much more.
Pray for me.
I’ll pray for you.