Last Sunday afternoon, I cleaned out the fridge. I washed all the shelves, gathering up breadcrumbs, milk spills, and unknown food smudges.
I checked “best before dates” on hummus and salad dressings. I threw out veggies in early stages of rot. I rearranged items for more logical reaching.
I didn’t do this because the fridge looked that much worse than usual. I did it because it had been a very good but emotionally-laden Sunday morning at church, preceded by a whole week of many things half-done, and I needed a mindless job I could accomplish in an hour with a clear outcome.
Later I did a poll of some professional women and asked, “What mindless jobs do you gravitate to at home when things get stressful and you need a sense of control?”
Here are some replies:
- I sort through the pantry unit in the kitchen, throwing out duplicates.
- I iron cotton pillowcases.
- I amalgamate the condiments from the cottage with my supplies back home.
- I walk through the house and pull dead leaves off house plants.
- I sort the Tupperware drawer, putting bottoms and tops together.
- I chop up squash to make soup for the week.
- If I have a sermon to write, I pay bills, making sure I have credit card slips for everything.
- I clean out the garden.
What about at your workplace, I wondered?
- I take apart the photocopier and repair it!
- I check all the candles and oil lamps (at church) to see if the wicks are snipped and if there’s enough oil.
- I put Vaseline on all the squeaky cribs in the hospital nursery so the babies won’t wake up.
- I clean out files.
Tasks of cleaning, organizing and setting physical things right are essential components of self-nourishment for some if not many of us, until of course they verge into serious procrastination.
But symbolically “cleaning out the fridge” can carry deeper meanings as well. One friend tells me that when her children were growing up, she checked the fridge on Saturday and made nourishing soup with the leftovers of the week, adding spices and sauces to complement. Once her family asked, “That was really good…could we have that soup again?” And she said, “Not likely….We work with what we have.”
Her comments speak wisdom to me as I ponder my current season of health difficulties. Symbolically, I won’t be creating some of my trademark kinds of soup over the next while. Rather, I’ll be trying to pay attention to the ingredients for a nourished life that are right in front of me, ready to be surprised, working with what’s given….
And at this time of year, cleaning, sorting and pondering carry other meanings as well. On Sunday we enter the season of Advent once again, the beginning of the liturgical church year. It’s a season of preparation and repentance, getting ready for Christ’s coming.
I love novels about female pastors. In the novel Evensong, author Gail Godwin creates the character of Margaret Bonner, the young pastor of the High Balsam Episcopal Church. In a fictional sermon for First Advent, this young pastor asks:
But how do we prepare for the unknown, the unannounced, the thing we cannot even imagine yet? For the unknown is not always an occasion for joy when it arrives. Sometimes it walks right in our front door like a visitor and makes off with things we hold most dear, or turns our lives completely inside out…
As people drawn to the light, we go about preparing for the hoped for and the unforeseen in exactly the same way. You clean your house and make yourself ready, you light your candles, you say “Come, Lord, come,” and then you compose yourself and wait for the knock…. pp. 215-216 (1st ed.)
Questions for Reflection
- Which mindless cleaning and sorting tasks nourish you (until they become procrastination)?
- How do you prepare for whatever may come during Advent?
Next week: Music of Advent