Spring Cleaning: The Un-Crazy Version

cleaning supplies

Not once in my life have I completed spring cleaning. I usually begin well, but I have a rather large house and lots of stuff. And my husband is not so concerned about spring cleaning—he will help if asked but otherwise remains blissfully unaware that anything needs extra cleaning or sorting or consideration of any kind.

And yet, every spring I feel the urge to do spring cleaning. Do I enjoy setting myself up for failure? Don’t I know how this will end—with clean baseboards in only two rooms and new piles of letters or photographs or wrapping paper unearthed to be gone through, maybe, sometime before October?

I need to honor the impulse to sort, pitch, and clean. Clearly, it serves some good purpose or it would not have survived all these years of failure. So I’m taking a different tack this spring. I’ve been traveling and had many deadlines and stresses and am just now feeling that I’ve entered spring, even though we’re practically in summer now. So already my schedule is compromised. I’m trying to spring clean according to a couple of principles:

Clean where I do the most living. It’s easy to clean out the corners where the stuff piles up but where I hardly spend any time—I can always re-organize a bookshelf. But when the weather is warmer, we spend most of our time on our large back porch. Also, I cook more. Those areas should be clean and clutter-free so that the living we do there will feel less stressful. So porch, pantry, and kitchen are the first priorities. After that, I can spend more time on rooms that are freer to disturb and sort out. And if I don’t get to the sitting room, I can concentrate on it when I do “fall cleaning,” because we spend much of our cold weather there, and that room will be a priority once again.

For every physical sort-and-pitch, I carry out a similar process in an area not so physical or obvious. One of my spring-cleaning lists is of people I need to see in person—friends I haven’t had lunch with in a while, people I keep up with on Facebook but with whom I’d like to share some coffee and face-to-face talk. Other items on the to-do list can be set aside for now, but these relationships are important to me, so I will de-clutter my schedule just as I de-clutter the kitchen.

  • What’s your strategy for spring cleaning, if you do it?
  • What gets in the way of de-cluttering and refreshing your life?
  • What helps you do the sorting and pitching you need?

Spring Cleaning: Sorting Our Memories

family photos

Today is Memorial Day, created to honor our war dead but also expanded to become a day of remembrance for all our loved ones no longer with us.

This week’s posts are about practices for spring that have to do with cleaning and sorting—what we refer to as “spring cleaning.” And while Memorial Day may seem far removed from spring cleaning, I think we can apply the clean-and-sort practice to our memories of loved ones.

For instance, we might be tempted to remember how a loved one suffered much until she died—a lingering illness or years of mental/emotional pain. Today we can bring to mind one of the good days, a moment or two when this person was her best self, when, in spite of suffering, her true spirit shone through and touched us.

We can remember how war has touched our family: the grandfather who was never quite the same after he came home from war while still a young man, yet with many horrors locked inside him forever; the son or daughter or sibling we now encourage toward therapy to help cope with PTSD, or for whom we have rearranged the family system because this vibrant young person has come home without arms or legs or sight or a full mind. But we can choose to dwell with memories of love-filled letters sent from battlefields or with the day not so long ago when the wounded soldier walked again on new legs.

We might tend toward memories of how we did not love well enough those people who are gone now. We remember the words we should have said or the day we should have been more patient or the argument we should have let go of. But we can choose to remember the day we laughed until we cried with this loved one, or the crazy vacation we took together that gave us many headaches but even more good, vivid memories.

My father died a long, difficult death at age 57—the age I am now. I am tempted to remember his pain, his loss of function, his frustration, and then his resigned silence. But I choose to remember how his eyes lit up when I came to visit—long after those eyes had gone nearly blind. I choose to remember all the injured creatures he took in over the years and all the summers I trailed after him as he worked up and down garden rows to produce an abundance upon which we feasted.

I choose to remember that my grandmother and I had many pots of tea together through the decades, rather than dwell on the physical illness that forced her to spend her final three years in a nursing home. I choose to remember all the family meals at my other grandma’s house and how she lived to hold so many great-grandchildren. I remember that a second cousin died in Vietnam but also that he was an orphan years before that, and that my great-uncle and aunt adopted him and gave him a good childhood.

Which memories do you choose today? Dwell with them in gratitude and reverence.

Prayer in the Daytime

God who created sun, moon, and stars,
who desired a world that shines and glimmers,
open my eyes to the universe that is all around me,
to the gifts and beauties at my feet and within arms’ reach.
Remind me of the truth I already know
and the lessons I’ve already learned.
Help me refresh my prayer, my sight, my interior sense of what is good and true.
Teach me to welcome the day and its light
and not to squander the wealth and wisdom I possess this day.

Spiritual Practices in the Daylight

clear, sunny day over tree in field

It occurred to me many years ago, when I was in college, that I spent a lot of time and energy looking for spiritual insights. I was always on the hunt for what God had to say to me. I stayed alert for new information, new ways to pray and conduct myself.

However, I’d already amassed quite a fortune of spiritual insights. I’d been in church since childhood, attended countless retreats and seminars, and actively participated in the student faith community on my campus. The crucial question was not, What new thing can God teach me today? but Have I integrated and applied what I’ve learned so far?

We don’t need to look for new and innovative spiritual practices this spring. Spiritually speaking, it’s broad daylight, and right in front of us, every day, we see the truth of what we need to do.

  • It would be nice to learn a specific kind of contemplative prayer, but do I bother to pray—with intent and openness—the Our Father, at least once a day?
  • Perhaps there’s a future for me as a spiritual director, but am I listening with great love and attentiveness to the colleague who is in my office this hour?
  • It might be truly gratifying to take this course on the New Testament, but have I read and meditated on the Scripture readings for Mass this week?

Pretend that your life has been in shadow for the past week. And yet today you wake up, and the room is full of light, and you walk outdoors and can see everything clearly.

What do you see? What is God asking you to do—what need or opportunity is right in front of you?

What spiritual practice has been here with you all along but you forgot it or neglected it?

While It Is Day

sunny day clouds

Jesus said to his disciples more than once that they should take advantage of the daylight while they had it. One meaning we can take from such statements is that he, the light of the world, lived among them, so they should pay attention while he was with them.

I’ve come to appreciate the qualities of light. We’ve learned that our health suffers if we don’t get enough sunlight. It’s also more expensive to live in the dark than in the light—sun gives heat for warmth and light by which to see.

Spring could be considered a season of light. For those of us who live with four seasons, spring brings a welcome relief from the extremes of winter cold and darkness. I once lived for a summer in Washington State, and the skies were so often overcast that a mere hour of sunshine brought students out in shorts and sleeveless tops to bathe in what few rays they had.

We can take advantage of warmer weather and longer light, knowing that in a few short months we’ll be commuting to and from work in darkness once again. In Chicago, now is the time to take long walks and ride bikes and eat outdoors and tend whatever plants we have put into soil.

I enjoy other kinds of light in my life. I belong to a faith community that continues the traditions of Jesus’ apostles. I have access to people who have learned the Scriptures and who have studied the texts and prayed the liturgies for many years. I have the ability to buy books and occasionally attend retreats that help my prayer and my general spiritual state. I have friends and colleagues who share my faith and to whom I can turn for support, wisdom, and practical help.

I am still actively at work in the professional world. My body allows me to do many ordinary things such as taking walks and cleaning house. My eyes can still read words on a screen, and my mind can hold ideas and work with them. I can create through words, sounds, yarn, or fresh vegetables. In terms of age, I’m in the autumn of my life. But in other ways, it is spring. There’s plenty of daylight. Will I savor it, use it, love it?

  • Where is the light in your life?
  • What abilities do you possess?
  • What privileges do you enjoy?
  • What creative energy continues to hum within you?