June 24, 2016


Soul sweeping

Religion Editor

When I chose the name “Small Things” for this column, it was, in part, a response to Mother Teresa’s beautiful statement, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” But is also reflects my belief that everything we do can be a prayer, no matter how insignificant it may seem to others. This came home to me again when I started to page through “The Way We Pray,” a book that is a sampling of prayer practices from many different faiths.

You can pray when you walk a labyrinth, sing and chant, draw, dance, meditate, light candles, read sacred text, spin a prayer wheel or attend a worship service. And that’s just a few of the paths the book explored. With intention, all things can become sacred and part of our faith journey.

So why not housekeeping? I was drawn to two other books that seemed related: “Zen and the Art of Housekeeping” and “Spiritual Housecleaning: Healing the Space Within by Beautifying the Space Around You.”

I am the first person to admit my house is dusty. Our corgi, a perpetual shedding machine, creates little tumbleweeds of hair the two cats also contribute to when they’re not putting paw prints on the windows in pursuit of dust motes floating on sunbeams.

I start out with good intentions, beginning with a list that would keep the cleaning staff of a five-star hotel busy for months: clean the cupboards, wash the dishes in the cupboards, line the cupboards with fresh paper, wash the walls — by the time I reach “scrub the floor,” it’s time to clean the cupboards again, and never mind the other 10 things I didn’t reach.

The Zen koans on the back of the “Art of Housekeeping” book sounded like intriguing points to think about, little springboards to spiritual questions. “If the kitchen is the heart of the home, what is the heart of the kitchen?” “What is the color of clean?” and “If the purpose of cleaning is to remove dirt, what is the purpose of dirt?” There also was the playful question: “What would the Buddha dust?” The whole point being you can learn to “put more than elbow grease into your daily routine.” For Christians, that might mean choosing a favorite Bible verse to meditate on, to let our “Mary” side blossom even as we experience our “Martha” mindset.

For me, it all begins with decluttering, a holdover from Lenten practices. If we can shovel out the old stuff, we can make room for more spiritual things. The Zen mirrors the Christian concept of not accumulating material things. To declutter in a mindful way, the author suggests the physical act of sorting and discarding can compare to spiritual decluttering as well.

The “Spiritual Housecleaning” book takes it a step further and includes a simple ritual “separation ceremony.” It reminds me very much of the Lenten practice of fasting or abstaining from something to promote spiritual growth.

In the long run, the goal is not perfection, but the opportunity “to embrace the process of keeping house.” Sing as you sweep the floor, pray as you polish it. Learn to let go of old, detrimental things in preparation for renewal, for new beginnings.

Totts may be reached at religion@ohio.net.