Some of the people in my life give me a hard time about being tidy. I have to admit that one of the first things I did when I arrived at St. Mary’s was to begin cleaning & tidying up. In the parish hall I recall an upright piano with a broken leg, a Wurlitzer organ in the coat room area of the hall, a plastic mattress with a crack running down the center of it in the nursery, and much more. In my zeal, I may have gone overboard in my cleaning/tidying frenzy (although I don’t think so!), but here’s what I was thinking: this place, and these grounds, are a statement about who we are as a community of faith, what we value, and the common life we share. If we want to encourage visitors to join us, then we need to be ready for company! It can be easy to overlook all kinds of things about our physical facilities when we get used to them. Maybe my “fresh eyes” were a blessing at that time, allowing us to do a good thorough house-cleaning.
So you can imagine my joy when I recently read a passage from Jean Vanier. Vanier was born in France in 1928 and is the founder and spiritual leader of the L’Arche movement. What is L’Arche? It’s a network of homes across the world where people with developmental disabilities live in community with people who help to care for them and share their lives. I was recently reading a reflection by Vanier and was struck by a passage wherein he was reflecting on something near and dear to my heart.
Read on: “One of the signs that a community is alive can be found in material things. Cleanliness, furnishings, the way flowers are arranged and meals prepared are among the things which reflect the quality of peoples’ hearts. Some people may find material chores irksome; they would prefer to use their time to talk with and be with others. They haven’t yet realized that the thousand and one small things that have to be done each day, th4e cycle of dirtying and cleaning, were give by God to enable us to communicate through matter. Cooking and washing floors can become a way of showing our love for others. If we see the humblest task in this light, everything can become communion and so celebration- because it is a celebration to be able to give… The house [and by extension the church, chapel, parish hall and grounds] is the nest; it is like an extension of the body. Sometimes we forget the role of the environment in liberation and inner growth.”
This passage really resonated with me. And it doesn’t hurt that Vanier is a well-known holy guy and deep thinker. And he values tidiness! If everything else today goes terribly, it’s okay – this passage from Vanier made getting up this morning worthwhile.
So here’s the challenge: look around you.
For St. Mary’s parishioners: we have a great cleaning service that comes once per week. Other than that, everything here is cared for and maintained by parish members. Is there a cleaning project you’d like to take on? Is there something that seems messy or out of place? Do our buildings and grounds communicate a vibrant, caring community of faith? Try looking around you with the eyes of a visitor. What might we have gotten used to that could be better organized, cleaned, maintained or care for? We are all the stewards of St. Mary’s and her land, buildings and resources at this time in history. Let’s seek to continue to lovingly care for God’s vineyard on this little corner in Dousman!
For all of us: we may want to examine our living space, and the land and all the resources that we are entrusted with; how are our homes, the meals we prepare, and the way in which our lives unfold in relation to the many details of life all reflections of our inner life and our connection with our Creator?
While not an end in itself and arguably not the most important thing, the truth is tidiness, cleanliness and organization are among the ways we demonstrate something of our spirit, our inner life and what’s important to us.