Simplifying the Soul: A Book Excerpt

On this first day of Lent, spend some time going through a favorite stash, asking yourself what these items represent. Many of them will no doubt qualify as genuine junk, things that were simply stuck away instead of being carried out to the trash. Others might be useful, except for the fact that they are never used; these are easily bequeathed to someone else. If you come across something you cannot yet bear to part with, don't struggle with yourself too long. Instead, pack it in a box, label it, and seal it up; then store it in an beginnings: attic or the garage rafters for a few years, remembering that, if you leave it there too long, someone else will have to deal with it. Meanwhile, pray for liberation from these ultimately ephemeral reminders of the past.

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and
acts on them will be like a wise man who built his
house on rock. (Mt 7:24)

Thursday: Scrub a Dirty Corner

An Elder was once asked when the soul acquires humility. He answered, "When it thinks about its own vices." 3

As we began the job of transferring furniture and appliances to the new house, hidden pockets of grime began to materialize all over the place we'd lived in for twenty-five years. At first, I cringed with embarrassment. I then moved to defensiveness. After all, who in her right mind regularly scrubs behind the microwave? Cleans the oven? Even bothers to glance at the top of the refrigerator?

The great irony was this: like my Norwegian grandmothers before me, I have always been what they once called "house proud." I make sure that linen closets are maintained in a rational order, that dishes get washed and stacked each night, and that wandering pens, newspapers, bills, and socks are firmly corralled within their proper places the moment they dare stray into the public arena. Yet, unlike those Norwegian grandmothers, when it comes to hidden grime, my philosophy has always been "out of sight, out of mind."

Others have noticed: my mother-in-law, who on our honeymoon got after the "slurpage" beneath the veggie crisper in the fridge; my Dutch aunt, who stayed with us a week and spent much of it ferreting out greasy dust balls under the stove; and our daughter Kelly, who moved back in for a few months between jobs and assigned to herself the role of window track scrubber. For them, it was the hidden dirt that inspired their zeal.

I had to wonder: how could I obsess about surface messiness but blithely ignore concealed potential health hazards? And did this propensity toward shoring up appearances at the expense of getting after what was deep and hidden extend, perhaps, to my spiritual life? The appalling grime revealed during our move inspired me to revisit this question. And I had to admit that the answer was yes; the same dynamic was clearly at work in me when it came to, for example, confession.

For years, two patient priests, first Fr. Bernard and then Fr.

Isaiah, have listened to long, funny stories, fielded earnest theoretical questions, and been subjected to cartloads of charm but heard very few genuine confessions from me.

Reprinted with permission from Ave Maria Press.

Return to the Patheos Book Club on Simplifying the Soul for an author interview and a blogger roundtable discussing the book and spiritual practices.

1/16/2012 5:00:00 AM