Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Proverbs 31: Swept and Sprinkled, Ma Joad as a P 31 Woman

   As we sink into the warmth and wisdom of Proverbs 31 
as it applies to women, rather than to kings as in the first few verses, 
a lovely and demanding image comes into focus. 
We begin to see the heart and the habits of a woman who clearly makes her home a priority. 
The descriptions available to us go far beyond dull exteriors, too. 
They evoke purpose, joy, self discipline, industriousness,
and above all... love.


   Always a sucker for characterization, I would like to propose a literary parallel. Earlier this summer our book club gobbled up a fairly modern classic, Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. If you're interested, I wrote more on that book here, Trading Wrath for Gratitude and here, the full book review.

   One of the main characters in Grapes is of course Ma Joad. She is the matriarch of her growing and suffering family, and she leads them with great dignity and resourcefulness as they migrate westward and endure one devastation after another.

   Ma Joad cooks whatever food stuffs she can collect, and she does so with aching love. She feeds strangers with astonishing generosity. She washes her family's dust-packed clothes in brutal circumstances. She keeps her adult children motivated and soothes her husband's frayed nerves and bolsters his wilting ego. She honors her aging and sometimes difficult parents. (Actually, I think they are her in-laws.) She keeps house in every sense of the word, both physically and spiritually.

   One of the rituals Ma Joad maintains no matter where they camp, no matter who is with them or what is happening that day, seems to be cleaning the floors. Despite the Dust Bowl conditions of extreme dryness and wind-blown dirt that would permeate every crevice, she persists. She places high priority on refreshing her family's state of mind by refreshing their physical surroundings.

Steinbeck frequently used the phrase, "swept and sprinkled" to describe Ma's finished house.
And while she did special things for guests, she kept house for her family.

Photo Sourced from Google, original website unavailable.
   My husband's grandparents lived in western Oklahoma during the infamous Dust Bowl. They farmed and raised their families and survived the incredible heat and drought. When I finished The Grapes of Wrath, no doubt still in that afterglow of having read something so excellent, I asked my wonderful father-in-law a few questions about his childhood memories and the stories he'd heard about his parents and grandparents. Among other stuff, I wanted to know more about "swept and sprinkled." He nodded and smiled knowingly.

   Since the floors were all dirt, Harvey explained, any amount of foot traffic would stir up messy paths all day long. He said that people had a habit of sweeping the thresholds of their homes with a broom then sprinkling the smoothed earth with a little water to settle the dust. He said that this would beautify the home and also minimize the tracking in of dirt.

   So simple.

   And yet, would anyone now really blame Ma Joad had she ignored this task? I mean, the dust was blowing all day, every day. Relentless.

   Sweeping and sprinkling had to be done on a regular, perhaps almost constant basis because of their conditions.

   But she kept doing it. In addition to cooking and washing (by hand, not with a machine) and doctoring and tending, this not young woman made sure her family had a smooth, settled entry to their home. So simple. I find this absolutely beautiful and fascinating.


   I am so full of wondering about this... Every family is different, every woman is different, and every home is different... But the drive to nest and nurture stretches across cultures and eras and personalities. I'd love some fresh input. Please join me!

  • What simple things can you think of that the modern woman might do just to improve her family's state of mind, or their basic physical surroundings? 
  • What regular little rituals do you keep for these reasons? 
  • Is there something you do every day that makes you feel like your home is "ready" for your people? What makes you super comfy and might make you say, "We are swept and sprinkled and ready."
  • How do you feel when you do this stuff? Are you radiating love, or obligation?
  • What tasks do we avoid, just because they are painfully monotonous or repetitive? 
  • What excuses do we offer ourselves for shirking duties?
  • Does not doing something accumulate anything adverse, either spiritual or physical? What are the consequences of this?

   I hope this little theme was as enlightening to you as it has been to me. Internalizing the purpose of what we do at home and the true value of the seemingly mundane tasks that comprise home-keeping... these can prompt powerful shifts in attitude. 

   My personal wish is to be more like Ma Joad, for starters. To be more loving in the routine jobs I might prefer to ignore, and to always remember that repetitive tasks sometimes make the biggest difference.

   I wish the same and more for you!! 

   Thanks so much for reading.

"What's this call, this sperit? An' I says, 'It's love.
I love people so much I'm fit to bust, sometimes.'"
~Ma Joad


  1. And what an amazing nurturer you are my lady!!! Others should hope to be like you!

  2. Only you, my dear Marie, could combine two of my favorite things put to paper: Proverbs 31 and The Grapes of Wrath! This post is so full of light.
    I am taken with the "sweeping and sprinkling" and think it should become a daily ritual around here (at least metaphorically, my carpets might not like a daily dowsing with water!)
    I will be thinking on your important questions as I go about my sweeping. xo

    1. Isn't this an incredible intersection?! I just love it. Surely there are a thousand other literary examples, but I'm glad you like this one too. ; )
      I remember feeling almost hypnotized by the phrase, it was repeated so often in the book...
      Swept & Sprinkled...
      Swept & Sprinkled...
      Swept & Sprinkled...
      Really got my attention and made me enjoy my routines more.
      Thanks for reading!! I am on pins & needles about your guest post!

  3. Swept and sprinkled resonates with me. That's how I should keep my heart and my house.

    1. Oh Donna that's a great metaphor, the idea of keeping our hearts swept & sprinkled too. That's where it all starts, right?? Thanks! Love that.


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