Brightly coloured houses line the harbour
Cobalt blue, sunflower yellow, tangerine red
Dusky pink, burnt orange.
White sun dusts the hilltops
Lightens the wintry landscape.
A sweetly pungent smell drifts in the air
Drawing us into the shop.
Behind the arts and crafts on sale
A woman is folding a large bedsheet.
This is Tobermory laundry.
The sheet is pristine; virgin white
Dazzling in its whiteness.
For centuries women have handled sheets,
Washing, ironing, starching, folding.
Domestic toil, women’s work.
Making things clean, removing dirt,
Restoring order, upholding virtue,
Guarding honour, maintaining purity.
Blood on the sheets. Woman’s virginity,
Blood and tears, chastity confirmed.
The pristine white sheet
Blinds us to centuries of oppression.
Women raped, abused, silenced.
Women as objects, chattels, property.
Women abased, undone, spoiled.
A simple virgin-white sheet
in Tobermory laundry
Evokes women’s blood, sweat and tears
Throughout the ages.
St Beuno’s, September 2018
Dr Cathy Ross is head of Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Oxford and lecturer in mission at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University. Until 2016 she was the general secretary of the International Association for Mission Studies. She has previously worked in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda with NZCMS. Her publications include Women with a Mission: Rediscovering Missionary Wives in Early New Zealand, (Auckland: Penguin, 2006), Mission in the 21st Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission (ed with Andrew Walls, London: DLT, 2008), Life-Widening Mission: Global Anglican Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum, 2012), Mission in Context (with John Corrie, Ashgate, 2012), The Pioneer Gift (with Jonny Baker, London: SCM, 2014), Mission on the Road to Emmaus, (with Steve Bevans, London: SCM, 2015), Pioneering Spirituality (with Jonny Baker, London: SCM, 2015) and Missional Conversations (with Colin Smith, London: SCM, 2018). Her research interests are in the areas of contextual theologies, world Christianity, feminist theologies and hospitality.
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