Veronica Dudych

The Janitor of My Shadowland

by Veronica Dudych

“We live on a beach.”

I often say this to myself as I sweep mounds of sand from one or another area of our house each day. Actually, at MH we take turns with the various chores, so I don’t sweep every day. But someone does.

This week my job is to sweep the basement of what we call “the main house.” This house is unusual in that our main doors lead into our basement, and the basement is the first room anyone sees when they come.

Besides being the scene of much in-and-out traffic, the basement is used for recreation (we have a piano and a ping pong table there), and our library flows into much of the space as well. And though it’s “unfinished,” as basements go—cement floors, ducts in prominent view—we still want it to be at least somewhat presentable and welcoming to those who visit.

So, this week, the mounds of sand I sweep up and return outside remind me that, though we are far from the ocean, we live on a beach.

As I work, other thoughts come to me, too.

Take, for instance, brushing the stairs that lead into the basement from outside, or the stairs at the other end, which lead up into our dining room. The best way we’ve found to do this, is facing the stairs and working from top to bottom, which means that essentially you’re brushing the sand and dirt towards yourself.

With the roughness of the cement outer stairs, the sand sort of goes flying, so you’re not just sweeping towards yourself, you’re sweeping onto yourself. On rainy days, the sand clings all the more readily, and this observation is all the more salient.

This comes to mind with several of the cleaning jobs here. Like sweeping the outdoor jons (latrines). The stalls are too small to get behind the dirt to sweep them out, and there is only one way out after all—for both you and the dirt. So necessarily you sweep the dirt (again, mostly sand) towards/onto yourself.

I’ll bet you can find corners in your own house that help you understand what I mean.

Do you sometimes feel that sweeping is meaningless, unimportant, not worth your time? After all, we have to do it day after day, and we hardly have time to enjoy the cleanliness before the house gets dirty all over again. We’ve got more important things to do with our time.

I don’t mind it actually, not when I think of Our Lord’s great love for us.

So what’s the connection? Well, for years sweeping has led me to meditate on Our Lord taking our sins upon himself on the cross.

Just like we, in cleaning the floor, sweep some of the dirt on ourselves, Christ, in saving us, took our sins—in this case all of them—upon himself, putting them to death on the cross, thereby reconciling us to the Father.

There’s also a verse I recall in the book of Job, (38:17, Jerusalem Bible). God finally speaks to Job, chiding him for his complaining, which is based on his lack of faith and trust in God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and all-round “omni-ence”… The verse reads, Have you been shown the gates of death, or met the janitors of shadowland?

Janitors of Shadowland. A janitor, in my experience, is someone who usually only comes out after the building is closed for the day, to clean and maintain it. Menial, thankless work, we tend to think; but crucial, so that the building may be made clean and welcoming for the next day’s business.

In our school days, my sister and I often would remain after hours, to work on the yearbook as editors/photographers. We got to know the school janitors, and came to appreciate the work they did, but more than that, we got to know them as people. So much so, that we gave them a page in the yearbook.

When God speaks of the “janitors of shadowland,” I imagine he refers to something more like a Gollom-ish character lurking about in the dark, lonely depths of the netherworld.

But, couldn’t we see Jesus as being the Janitor of our Shadowland?

Full of life—Life Himself—he takes on with gusto the cleaning out of the darkest corners of our sinful being, sweeping out the sand and cobwebs and bits of other debris that our sins constitute, not minding the fact that somehow it clings to him as it gets stirred up.

Of course, what he does with that dirt is quite different from what others might do. He doesn’t just brush it off, wash his hands and walk away. He lets others nail him to a cross, and he dies and lets himself be buried with the “dirt”. Then he rises clean and glorious. A mystery beyond all comprehension.

Historically, Christ underwent this death once for all. But two-plus millennia later, we still sin. Like the sand that keeps coming into our house, we constantly need to be re-cleansed. The Janitor of our Shadowland never stops restoring us.

Is the Janitor of our Shadowland to go thankless for so great an act of love? Far be it! May he be praised and thanked forever!

So, should cleaning and sweeping be considered meaningless, unimportant tasks that get in the way of “real” life? As symbols of Christ’s cleansing us from sin, I don’t think they ever can be.