The clearing out of my spaces for Lent continues, and as it does, the realization that moth and rust have corrupted some things, dirt and grime have filtered in elsewhere, and some things need to go immediately to the washing machine, becomes irrefutable. Clearing out means tackling the dirt.
It amazes me, (not amuses me), how dust accumulates, pieces get broken and fall off far from their objects of origin, and somethings seem to just decay of their own volition. They not only are tarnished; they tarnish the space they are in. So bring in the spray cleaner, the rags, the bags for trash. In go the spare wheels of the toy belonging to a child who is now in his 40s. And elbows, grease, with tools in hand, attack the vacated place on the shelf or the bottom of the drawer. It’s time to clean.
The prayers and rites of Lent have much to say about cleansing: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51: 10. So beginning with Ash Wednesday we focus inwardly on the ways we have separated ourselves from the Holy One and other people: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. But I am a child of Grace, I say. Why do I need to go rooting around in the cellars of past sins of commission and omission to remember things done and undone? I believe I am a one who is forgiven by God, free to live in the Light, not to turn back into un-Light. In this Lenten practice I am seeing that my clearing of spaces is my work cooperating with that Grace. In Lent especially, my attention to the state of my heart–clean or unclean–is a way of letting Grace grow and bloom in me.
Stories abound from those raised in traditions where confession-private and corporate-was emphasized, in which the would-be confessor was scrounging around her heart trying to come up with some infraction worthy of repentance. I am not sure that God or God’s world is well-served with that kind of hyper-scrupulosity. However, it is a fact that the dirt that accumulates in my spaces does cloud my vision, my intention, my action. Jurgen Moltmann talks about the ways our hearts get “rubbled over” with clutter and debris, the way that cellars and basements were cluttered in World War II after bombing raids. The space could not be usable until it was cleaned out. Grace asks me to cooperate by paying attention to the places in me that are dirty and sticky, and clean them out. As a respectable clergy type, I notice that my places of grime are less the “hot sins,” like those that create banner headlines. They are more the cold ones, unlikely to be detected by others, things like envy and jealousy or gossip. The blots become visible and audible when I hear my voice get cold, my eyebrow is raised, and my eyes roll at someone’s comment. Those signs tell me about judgements that I have made that are not mine to make, resentments to which I have clung long past their expiration date, and gossip in which I have participated that come from stories that are not mine to tell. I also see the grimy hard spots where I have neglected the poor ones in my neighborhood, failed to speak up when my word would have made a difference, and my collapsed state in which I succumb to apathy, because the weight of the world is just too much.
The good news of the One we follow tells us to “repent,” which is to turn around and get rid of those stains and spots. In my clearing and cleaning I am making space for clearer and stronger vision of the Jesus way, which gives me strength and joy to do the following of Jesus. And, it is to presume in love on the never failing Grace of the Holy One:
Let the healing streams abound, make and keep me pure within. (Wesley)