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September 30, 2015, 12:00 AM

Tidying as a Spritual Practice

At the beginning of my 3-month sabbatical this summer, I had the house to myself for two weeks while my husband, Scott, was doing research in Ohio.  Seizing the opportunity for solitude, I planned a two-week silent retreat in place.  I turned off my phone, put away my lap-top, and took my morning walk early enough that I wouldn’t pass anyone on the road who might misinterpret my silence as rudeness.  I once participated in a 10-day silent retreat at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts – on which I based my plans for this retreat.  But this time, I wanted to structure it myself.  In addition to sitting and walking meditation, I wanted to include reading time in preparation for two courses later in the summer, and weaving time to finish the rugs I began last summer.

What actually happened was that shortly before the sabbatical, I noticed a small book at the counter at the Hickory Stick Bookshop, entitled: the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing, by Marie Kondo.  The book is a quick read and her idea of keeping only those things that give you a feeling of joy when you hold them made the whole project seem like a treasure hunt.  The author says to sort by category beginning with your clothing – pulling all of it out of closets and drawers at once, piling it all on the floor and then picking up each piece to see whether holding it gives you a feeling of joy.  Anything that doesn’t, goes in a bag for the thrift shop (she actually advocated the garbage, but I reserved that fate only for things that were too worn out to be useful to someone else).  There are even instructions for folding the clothing – or table cloths or napkins – when you put them back into the drawers so that you can see everything at once and never have to root around for anything or forget the thing that got buried at the bottom.

Instead of the intended reading and weaving, my silent retreat activities became purging and tidying.  I confess that I started in the wrong order; with cookbooks, table linens, and miscellany that I could give to the Church Fair.  But in the two weeks of my silent retreat, I also got through all my clothes. The photograph above is of my table-cloth and napkin drawers as they now look, with Marie Kondo’s book lying on top.

I didn’t know when I left for sabbatical that I would be doing the same thing at work when I returned.  Everything that used to be in my office – furniture, books, pictures, baskets, tea mugs, candles, table runners, shells and rocks for object meditation, children’s sermon objects – was boxed up and stacked in the hallway so that the office could be painted before new carpet was put in.  My return from sabbatical on September 1 was another opportunity to purge and tidy.  The new carpet had not arrived, so I had the luxury of time to go through every box of books and every basket and desk drawer and hold every object to see whether it gave a sense of joy, before I allowed it to cross the threshold back into my work life.

Purging and tidying my possessions was a physically “lived” metaphor for the inner work I was undertaking on my sabbatical.   Getting some distance from my ministry was an opportunity to get a “balcony view” of my pastorate and make some decisions about priorities.  There were some things that I needed to let go of in order to shift my focus to some new activities; which I will say more about later.

Marie Kondo promises “life changing magic” when we tidy up.  The process of making new choices based on whether a possession, activity, attitude, or belief is life-giving or life-sapping really is life changing.  Although I am still in the process of “tidying up” my house and my office; my life has been changed by both the physical and spiritual work of this summer’s sabbatical.

See you Sunday!  Cheryl


02-19-2016 at 8:28 AM
Sari Max
Lovely! Inspiring! Especially at this turning point in my life. Thank you!
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