Cleaning and the soul's journey...

Almost none of what I'm writing these days cuts deeper than sabbatical
preparations. Given the Netanyahu stink, the on-going negotiations with Iran, the war against the NON-Islamic state and all the rest, I understand why most aren't interested in the details of house cleaning in order to guarantee a colleague and his spouse a measure of comfort for three + months they will be living in our house. Such are the quotidian mysteries of hospitality, yes? Kathleen Norris put it like this in a small book of the same name:

"Laundry, liturgy and women's work all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down. Our daily tasks, whether we perceive them as drudgery or essential, life-supporting work, do not define who we are as women or as human beings.” 

Indeed, they do not define us - as either women or men - and yet these highly ordinary, repetitious tasks of the household can be refreshing and meditative - especially for one whose work rarely bears immediate fruit. I find it highly satisfying to be on my hands and knees for two hours when I stand back and look at the polished wood floor. My heart beats a little less frantically after the dusting is done and the books are back in their rightful lodging. And God knows how much I celebrate a clean stove-top! I used to bake bread on a semi-regular basis when the children were small mostly to see the beautiful end of a project. The heavenly smells and tastes were a close second, but it really helped me to know that my labor produced something of value. You need a really long view and an unusual dose of patience when your stock and trade involves prayer, conversation and the healing of the soul. 

But beyond the obvious,my need for getting our house in order for our friends, something else is going on. I just finished rereading Nora Gallagher's book, Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic and have started again William O. Roberts, Crossing the Soul's River. Like Gallagher, I have come to a place in my spiritual life where the bold claims of my religion no longer interest me. Perhaps that's why I am leading a series on Job this Lent. It seems that I am much more interested in the small, intimate presence of Jesus who brings both assurance and a quietly comforting presence than all the God, King and Father Almighty talk. Gallagher writes: 

What I want from the church, or any faith community, I see now, is a look between human beings that says we are knitted together, standing in a circle, holding each other up, waiting for the next ax to fall, rather than persons following a crowned Jesus, believing in an oppressive creed and tinny, false hope... (Our) reality is more about Jesus kneeling in the dust making a paste of spit and dirt... Jesus knew the streets and houses (of his friends. He knew) the way it feels to be afraid, hurt, unattended, ignored, tortured. To be vulnerable... And if we are to take Jesus as an indication of what god's nature is like - not because Jesus is god's only son, but because Jesus seemed to have committed himself to following out to the end what he thought god is like - god ends up her with the sick and dying, too.

This is a quiet and gentle spirituality - one grounded in simple things like silence and candles, vulnerability and compassion, breaking bread and sharing wine - so that we might hold one another and be held. That's where Roberts' insights come in: his is a book exploring rites of passage for men. And what he notes about Erik Erikson's work is fascinating - particularly the way the developmental stages for women and men differ. He writes that essentially women and men begin to pass "through the childhood states pretty much together. If we are cared for, then we will develop trust as infants. We both start saying now and becoming autonomous as terrible two-year-olds. We develop autonomy and industry as children."

But in adolescence our pats follow very different roots. Men seek an identity and then move to generativity. Women yearn for intimacy and then move to generativity. This means that in midlife, we come back to the other's adolescent task: men year for intimacy, women seek an identity.

FOR MOST MEN                               FOR MOST WOMEN

Trust                                                 Trust
Autonomy                                         Autonomy
Initiative                                           Initiative
Industry                                            Industry
Identity                                             Intimacy
Generativity                                      Generativity
Intimacy                                            Identity
Ego Integrity                                    Ego Integrity

I know this to be true for myself and suspect it rings true for most other men, too. My inward/outward journey for the past 12 years has NOT been about becoming successful or even accomplished.  That happened for me between 30-50. No, what I have been striving towards is intimacy with those I love most: my wife, my children and closest friends. And one of the ways that I have learned to do this is to clean and cook and set a lovely table for guests. It is hospitality on a small scale. 

After finishing my study yesterday, I looked carefully at my desk. The books I turn to the most are there and they are telling... They are poetry and prose about the soul's journey. They go deeper into the Psalms and Job. They speak of the quiet blessings and rediscovering awe. And so, the cleaning continues.


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