I hate cleaning. It is the most redundant task I can think of next to bathing and brushing my teeth. Some of my friends love to clean. They are the neat people and they are organized and tidy. They seem to always find time to put things in their place. I wish I could be one of these people. I must admit that I resent these people a little because they make it painfully obvious that I am not one of those people. Currently, every surface in my house is covered with clutter. Everywhere I turn, there are stacks of paper, coffee rimmed mugs, laundry (clean and dirty), dishes, yarn or shoes. I can't escape the mess even at work because my classroom is messy, too! In this regard, my husband and I are two peas in a pod. Cleaning just always gets put on the back burner and, well, we don't really mind. At least I don't mind so long as no one else sees my mess. We have a high mess tolerance, but we are sensitive to those who do not.
I talked to my mother-in-law today about cleaning (she is one of the neat people) and she told me that one way she prepares for the the high holidays is deep cleaning. This seems like a good practice and one to which I aspire. Like biur chametz, physical cleaning becomes sanctified when through the chore, we make room for God. It also makes room for the uninvited guest, the surprise visitor. As it stands now, like my full fridge, there is a lot stuff cluttering my way to God. There is nowhere to rest my eyes in my home and no space for the mini sabbath rests needed to re-energize me on a daily basis. If a neighbor stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar, I would be mortified. So, not only do the physical items get in my way, but the guilt about not being a better housekeeper, a better wife, or a more with-it, organized person obstructs my spiritual path. Plus, I'm tired. How can I fit it all in? There's work, playing with the dogs, watching a little TV, making dinner, doing the dishes, going to boot camp, knitting projects, magazines and books to read, and a new house to decorate to name a few preferred activities and some obligations. I wonder a lot about how I can have the energy to get it all done. We don't even have kids yet! Learning about biur chametz, however, is helping me look at cleaning differently.
Biur chametz is an extreme practice for some Jews (as seen in this article here) and I'm not interested in anything extreme. I like the middle of things: oreos, political parties, and religious practices. But the take away for me is that cleaning can be a spiritual practice just like fasting. I fast for Lent and for Passover in different ways and I think my fasts serve a similar purpose. By fasting, I am creating a vacuum for God to fill. For Lent, I fast from listening to the radio in my car. Even with a shorter commute than ever this year, it is still a difficult practice. At the beginning of the forty days, I dread the silence. I fidget and hum, fiddle with my dashboard and talk to myself. I invite God to be present with me during my rides. I pray for the ability to listen and be still. I also hope I'm a better driver during Lent and that I pay better attention to the road. Four days out from Easter, I still reached for the radio's on button when I was driving home from work, but I followed the action with prayer. I was quiet. I listened and it felt good.
Cleaning my house can help me make room for God, too. I talk to my students about cleaning up after themselves. I tell them it is a sign of respect. It honors the work that went into making our classroom tools. It shows kindness to those who take care of vacuuming our rug and taking out our trash by making their job a little easier. It helps them show self-respect because they say to themselves by cleaning that they are worth a nice spot to work and play. And, it just makes the day go smoother when we know where things are and we're not tripping over the rogue lego or glue stick. I need to practice what I preach.
I am determined to clean and I've started with my car. What if some one asks for a ride home from work and my car is too full of junk? What if that person starts a conversation that leads to inspiration or empathy or the beginning of a new friendship? How can I not make room for that? Cleaning makes room for surprises and surprises are important during Lent and Passover. Opening the door for Elijah at the seder, finding the golden egg at an Easter egg hunt, and looking for signs of spring are surprises that fill me with hope. According to Sarah Parsons' guide, A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent, inviting God to surprise you is also an act of trust. She says, "spiritual growth means learning to expect and welcome surprise of any kind. The hard part of this growth process comes in accepting that we are not in control. This season, as we clear space, we allow new things to happen, things we do not entirely plan or control" (p. 62). I'm going to keep working at asking God for surprises. Cleaning will help me prepare to ask.