March 2011

Spring Cleaning

Do you do that?  Do you observe the ritual of spring cleaning?  I confess that I always plan to do some spring cleaning, but then spring gets away from me before I do any.  There was a year (I think it was about 1997) when I worked my way down from the attic to the basement, sifting through our accumulated “treasures”.  I was actually able to throw out a whole lot of Stuff.  It felt wonderful, like taking two puffs from an inhaler for asthma.  I felt I could breathe more freely with less clutter in our house.

            I checked Wikipedia (always a wealth of information) and read a little about the supposed origins for spring cleaning.  One of the strongest contenders is the Jewish practice of cleaning all leaven out of one’s home in preparation for Pesach (Passover).  The hunt for chametz (leaven) leads to a thorough cleaning of the entire house.  Since Passover is a spring event, this could be one of the origins for what is more generally practiced as spring cleaning.

            The other contributing factor relates to the change in seasons.  Throughout the winter months, our homes are buttoned up.  We keep our windows and doors closed, and if we have them, we switch our screen doors for storm doors and lower our storm windows.  We do all that is practical to seal our homes against the cold and to conserve our heat.  By the end of winter the house is dusty and musty and in need of a good cleaning and airing out.  Depending on one’s latitude, March with its lion-like winds is a good time to throw open every aperture and let fresh air blow through.  In the days before we had vacuum cleaners, this was the way to clear out dust and stagnation.  Doing it in March accomplished the job before too may insects would swarm into your house.  Still today it feels good when we can throw open windows and doors and be refreshed within.

            Do you see the analogy?  Isn’t Lent a bit like spring cleaning?  As Lent is the Christian season of preparation for Easter, might it be related to the Jewish practice of cleaning out leaven in preparation for Passover?  Can Lent be a time of reflection and spring cleaning for the house of one’s spirit?  What might that look like?  If spring cleaning involves some opening of doors and windows to allow the breezes of March to blow through our homes, how might we open the doors and windows of our hearts and minds to allow the breath of God to flow through souls?

            Like my good intentions for the spring cleaning of my house, I always plan to do some more intentional opening of myself to Christ’s spirit during the weeks leading up to Easter.  I want to make time for some focused reflection on my effort to live my faith.  Some years I am more faithful to this intention than other years. 

            Last year, touched by the Muslim practice of fasting during Ramadan, I was moved to return to the similar practice that has long been a part of the Christian tradition, especially at Lent.  There are all kinds of fasts of course, and one’s health is an important factor for any fasting from food.  Abstaining from the consumption of anything, from food to electronic media to products that negatively impact the environment, can be an opening of oneself for more dialogue with God.  This year, I hope to forgo a meal, to donate to the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program the money that my lunch would have cost, and to use that meal time to read and journal with a book written by Barbara Brown Taylor called An Altar in the World.  [I’m writing this here in order to help myself follow through and do what I intend!]

            I do hope you will consider some intentional practice this Lent, some effort at a spring cleaning for both your home and your heart.  Life gets away from us.  The years pass ever more quickly.  It is all too easy to find ourselves coasting down the slopes in all the ways we always have.  Change is too often something that is done to us rather than something we choose as an avenue to growth.  Find a door or a window to open.  Exhale the dusty and musty within you, and inhale more deeply the Spirit of God.  Do some spring cleaning.  You’ll breathe better!