Monday, February 29, 2016

Laundering Tibetan Prayer Flags

I am having what can only be described as an existential, theological dilemma.
We are in the final stages of a pantry remodel, a DIY purgatory, so to speak. Fresh paint covers the walls of the utility/pantry room. All my cooking gear waits at the ready on the dining room table for return to brand new shelves.

And my Tibetan Prayer Flags are filthy.

There's a sentence my Sunday School teachers never anticipated.

I suppose I should qualify this a little.

Tibetan Prayer Flags are those colorful little banners you see hanging in the open air in nearly every picture of Tibet and the Himalayas. The story goes, that you say a prayer which attaches to the flag and as the breeze blows the flag the prayer is lifted to heaven.
I have had a set hanging in our kitchen for years.
I have never been to Tibet. These were purchased at the Plowshare shop in University City, Mo. (Plowshare is part of the One Thousand Villages organization, run by Mennonites to provide a way for Third World Villages to sell their wares. To learn more click: )

I am not Tibetan, or Buddhist, nor do I believe I need to pray to something to have my prayers heard. Although when a co-worker actually traveled to Tibet and climbed Mount Everest, you can bet I employed those flags quite frequently.
But overall, I do not feel I need the power of those flags to get my prayers answered.

I guess the flags might feel differently.
As I took the banner down to prep for painting I noticed a lot of frayed edges and quite a bit of kitchen gunk. For fabric that has never been exposed to the outside elements, these poor flags were looking pretty tattered.
Perhaps my prayers have been giving them quite a workout after all.
Or it might be my knack for cooking a fair amount of smoke producing dinners.
I am no theologian.
Slightly frayed edges. Thankfully, the kitchen gunk is not noticeable in the photo.

Which brings me to my dilemma.
Is it, in fact, okay to run these sort of holy artifacts through the washing machine?
Will I somehow wash away all that good praying?
Will those that benefited from my prayers suddenly be cast into a world of despair, hunger and lost earrings?

Of course, when I attempted to just hang them back in their rightful place the Lutheran German in me won out. And into the Maytag they went, properly cocooned in a pillow case along with my Grandma's embroidered German banner, which speaks to a happy home, and a set of Peruvian Wish Chickens.

If I am taking down one tradition I may as well take down several.
You can bet I said a prayer as I turned the dial to gentle and added the Holy Water of Delicate Laundry – Woolite – to the tub.

I am happy to report that the Prayer Flags came out crisp and clean and in an ethical battle of strings with the German banner. 
That is a whole lot of cultural confusion right there. 
Roughly translated this says: Not everyday is Sunday. Not everyday you can drink the wine but Everyday you must love me. Truly a German sentiment.
The Peruvian Wish Chickens were also as good as new, although upon further laundry duties I did find a handful of Wish Chicken bells in the Maytag. 
Bring it, Wishes! The Chickens are clean and ready.

But that's how life goes, isn't it.
We all shuffle through, a little agitated with one another now and then, a little frayed around the edges. But if we aren't willing to give it a try, well...we just wind up a grubby mess. 
Fresh and ready to help the World
Philosophical problem solved.
Now on to the Zen practice of Returning the Spices to the Stadium Seating Display in which I question the morality of having 4 different types of curry and 3 bottles of the exact same type of Paprika.

Say a prayer for me.

**I feel that everyone's faith is private. While having been raised in several Christian denominations, I do not subscribe to one particular organized church, choosing instead to believe in the Monty Pythonesque image that a higher power is indeed watching over us laughing and waiting to squelch evil doers with an enormous cartoon foot.
Why that foot hasn't been more active lately is a question for someone more qualified than me.

And, I hope this has not offended anyone. I suppose, if you are a routine reader you probably aren't easily offended. And if you are of the easily offended bend, well, I hope you took this opportunity to think. And maybe learn a little something about laundry.
One final thought, as those wise men from Monty Python put it:
"Try and be nice to people,
avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then,
get some walking in,
and try and live together
in peace and harmony
with people of all creeds and nations."

***Upon doing a little research for this post I learned that my belief that the flags helped send prayers to heaven was a misconception. Actually, the wind passing through the flags is sanctified and purified by the mantras printed on the flags. Also, it is traditional to replace flags yearly to renew hope for the world. 
Guess I just symbolically baptized the water supply here on the Coast of Illinois.
To learn more about these Prayer Flags click HERE 
I can't seem to find any info on the Peruvian Wish Chickens. I can only assume I have also been misinformed about them as well. I will, however, continue to wish. 


  1. I found the post interesting. Now, you'll have to see how well they do their intended job. I was not offended at all. Alana

    1. So happy you enjoyed the post. I think the flags are happy, now that they have been de-greased. As usual, my life is tacking along in a most happy direction!

  2. I'm so relieved! The Facebook thumbnail is the ethical string battle and I thought that was all that was left of your prayer flags. PHEW!

    1. I feel a smidge guilty - that string pic popped up as the thumbnail and it was just too funny not to use!

  3. I had the same thought as Bonnie. I'm glad that all of your treasures survived the laundry with only the ethical string battle and a few rogue bells to show for it.

    1. apparently that ethical string battle was worse than I thought, I am STILL finding string tangles stuck to random clothing items!!

  4. Monty Python really encapsulated the essence of philosophical and religious thought, didn't they? Just add "Always look on the bright side of life" and you've got it all.

    Love the clean prayer flags. I don't think you can wash the prayers out of them.

    1. Those Python's really had a knack for hitting it right on the head! And I agree, I have a feeling the prayers will be even more effective now that the gunk is gone!


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