Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cleaning House

Do you or have you ever met someone who enjoys cleaning?  I mean really enjoys it, as if there were nothing else the person could see themselves doing more than cleaning.  When someone tells me they do, it automatically raises the question, at least in my head:  Really?  Do you really enjoy it, for it's own sake?  Don't get me wrong, I like love a clean room, clean house, clean garage, clean car, clean name it.  There's just a deep-down, simple, good feeling that comes from having things sorted, straightened, unsoiled, and fresh, especially when it has been returned from the alternative state.  There's just something in the normal, rational, god-fearing human soul that gravitates toward things being that way.  There really is more truth to the old adage, "Cleanliness is next to godliness" than meets the eye.

But, cleanliness is an end state.  The process to get there, of expending time and sweat to put things back the way we wished they had been all along, isn't nearly as fun as being there.  On second thought, it just isn't fun period. Not at all.  For me at least, it usually comes more out of necessity than of choice, and has to be disciplined and enforced (parents, you know how this goes, right?).  I can almost always think of at least a half dozen other things I'd rather be doing, or places I'd rather be, like reading, taking a nice long run, you name it.

One of the greatest motivators to just get it done when it comes to cleaning is the arrival of guests.  Knowing that they are coming to visit suddenly gives us a sort of hyper awareness of everything in the house that isn't absolutely immaculate.  Those dust bunnies that have been hanging out under the bed for a few weeks now?   Odds are the guests will never, ever lift up your covers to see them, but you know they're there and with just the the thought of it, they might as well be screaming out loud enough for the neighborhood to hear, "Clean me.  Clean me!"

Back the the "unfunness" of the task at hand (can you tell how much I haven't felts like cleaning this weekend?)... Heck, we here in American despise cleaning so much--and our time doing anything but is so precious to us--that we even outsource it.   We have an entire industry built around providing cleaning services, both at home and in the workplace.  And even when we don't pay directly for someone else to do it, we consult with others about how to clean up because we don't even have time to think  and plan how to do it.  Sometimes we pay big bucks for this too, for someone to think for us and tell us what needs to be cleaned and how we should do it.

Not only that, but once the end state of having everything clean and in its proper place is attained, it's so easily lost.  I mean it's just downright demoralizing, isn't it?  I don't know how many times I have spent the better part of a weekend cleaning our garage, organized everything, sweeping, re-arranging shelves, and re-establishing a system for maintaining that hard-earned end state, all the while thinking, "This time it will work.  It will stay clean, everything that's used will put back in it's place, I will never have to spend hours cleaning again, and the life of garage storage will go on happily ever after."

Mmm hmm...Riiiight.  Somehow it just doesn't work out that way, and in a matter of days, weeks, or months later, it seems like we are back to square one and needing another round of neatness intervention.  I think we all (sane people anyway) really do like to have things as they should be.  It's the process of getting there that's not fun, and keeping things that way can seem downright impossible.

And so it is with the spiritual life.

The Church, recognizing that we need a periodic reminder to set aside time to sweep and straighten the "house" of our souls, gives us Advent season as a dedicated time to prepare for the arrival of the most important house guest, the King of all creation.

The readings for today, the Second Sunday of Advent, begin with one of my favorite (and perhaps one of the most well known) verses from Old Testament scripture: the prophet Isaiah's message of hope and promise of salvation that flows from the old covenant into the new.  Through the prophet, God speaks to remind us both of our need to diligently and expeditiously "prepare the way of the Lord," to get about the nitty gritty work of cleaning house, so to speak, in our souls, all the while lifting our eyes and hearts to the hope of the future kingdom.

A voice proclaims:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!

Every valley shall be lifted up,
every mountain and hill made low;
The rugged land shall be a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.

Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

A voice says, “Proclaim!”
I answer, “What shall I proclaim?”
“All flesh is grass,
and all their loyalty like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.”
“Yes, the people is grass!

The grass withers, the flower wilts,
but the word of our God stands forever.”

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!

Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
leading the ewes with care.
- Isaiah 40:3-11 (NAB)

With these words, the prophet points us forward through the trials, difficulties, and flat out spiritual warfare--with our own personal sins and the societal evil that we seem so powerless to cure--to look toward the fullness of time, when the "space" of creation, dragged down through history by man's sin and disobedience, will be restored to its immaculate end, to our promised salvation and the fullness of God's kingdom, as St Peter writes in the conclusion of the second reading:

But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

-2 Pt 3:13-14

As I mentioned in a previous post from 2/14/2010, Now Comes the Best Part, the most beautiful and concrete way to take up this spiritual house cleaning, and to get rid of the sin that mires and clutters our souls, is to make a good confession.   It is often a very difficult and laborious experience to have to voice our failings and shortcomings, but as with all cleaning work, it must be done, and habit makes it easier.  And the result after this cleaning is complete is joy and encouragement as our soul is swept clean.  So, during this Advent season, let us hasten to make way in our own hearts for the coming of He who seeks to dwell there, and by doing so bring a little light, fresh air, and clarity, to our own little part of his kingdom.


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