My husband and I are in the midst of preparing to put our house on the market. Therefore, we are engaged in household repairs and clutter removal that should have taken place long before this. Our efforts are paying off, even before the “for sale” sign appears in the front yard. Floor space and table tops are cleared of the books, magazines and papers that have an annoying habit of piling up. Furniture that was blocking the light from windows has been removed. And the downstairs bathroom, in need of a paint job since we moved into the house, now glows with butter-colored walls. It’s a joy just to walk from room to room.
There are great metaphorical connections that flow from a housecleaning exercise to the simplifying of one’s soulscape. It begins with clearing away internal clutter. I recently listened to an interview with retired prizefighter, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. He described how he overcame his bitterness over being wrongfully accused, convicted and sentenced to prison for murder. After ten years of being consumed with hatred for everybody and everything, he began to turn his life around. The trigger was the shocking image he beheld when he saw himself in the mirror one day. The rage he carried on the inside was projecting itself on the outside. To be that full of hate, one must carry a substantial load of grudges, resentment, and anger. Carter noted that he had made himself a perpetual victim. The solution was to free himself of all that kept him shackled to his hatred. It is a powerful image of “clutter removal”.
As a child, I remember accompanying my mother to church where she arranged floral bouquets for Sunday Mass. These weekly visits ceased during the six weeks of Lent and so I was all the more aware of the stark simplicity of the sanctuary. Devoid of all flowers and other ornamentation, I knew early on what it meant to be called into an extended period of fasting from the color and life that surrounded us during the other liturgical seasons. The simple surroundings called me to enter more deeply into prayer, reflection, and preparation for the explosion of spring hope that Easter brings. The extraordinary story of Rubin Carter brought to mind the importance of looking in the mirror during Lent to see what needs discarding in order to create space in the heart for gratitude, love, compassion, and generosity.
Engage your family in a spring cleaning activity. Clear out closets, cupboards, and cubbyholes of things that you no longer need or use. Donate reusable items to a charitable center, and recycle others. Take note of the space that has opened up in your home.
Share this story of St. Paul with your students. Tell how, in turning his life around, he was freed from his zealous persecution of others. Talk about the ways we can free ourselves from anger, bitterness, resentment, and self-pity in order to create more space for love, understanding, compassion, and generosity.