Friday, March 19, 2010

The Soul at Home

Homes and souls have a lot in common. Many of the things we do around and to our homes are similar to things we do around and to our souls as well. Our homes can be a place of refuge or turmoil; the same for our spiritual homes. Often we have the same attitudes about our souls as we do about our homes. I have sometimes noticed how when my home is a bit chaotic and out of order, my spirit feels restless and out of sorts. When my spirit is feeling tired and worn out, I tend to notice the tired and worn out aspects of my dwelling space. When I am surrounded by beauty and order, my spirit is uplifted. The interior castle and exterior castle are connected.

One of the things we do around our homes is to clean them from time to time. We all have our routines: daily picking up, weekly cleaning, occasional cleaning, spring cleaning. Once in a while we clean out those refrigerators and rearrange the closets. Every now and then, we gather up all the extraneous stuff we have collected and take it to a charity drop off. We put out the trash and send away the recycling. If we don’t do these things fairly regularly, we can get overwhelmed by garbage and can even get depressed. It is not so different with our souls. There’s the daily picking up in our prayer routine, the weekly cleaning at Sunday worship, the occasional spiritual quagmires that need attention from time to time, and then the major spring cleaning that happens during Lent especially. In confession and repentance, we put out the trash. We might offer the spiritual books that we no longer want or tidbits of wisdom to others who might find them useful. It is important to keep up with our soul cleaning or we may become overwhelmed or depressed.

It seems that there is always something that needs to be maintained or overhauled or redone around the house. When I look at that list, every one of the jobs is a great metaphor for interior maintenance. Right now, my list consists of putting tile at the entrances to my home to replace the worn wooden floors, redoing the main floor bathroom, refinishing a piece of furniture, painting a room, organizing my basement, putting in the spring garden and putting out the deck plants and furniture, replacing the gutters, repairing the furnace, and getting the chimney swept. There is always so much to do! Any one of these jobs is an opportunity to reflect on the maintenance of my soul. Take the piece of furniture I need to refinish: as I disassemble the piece, sand off the old finish, smooth out the dings in the wood, sand again, apply the layers of finish, and reassemble, I can reflect on similar actions in my soul. There’s that comfortable, well used, piece of furniture in my soul, perhaps it is my practice of listening, for example. It has been a useful and faithful habit for many years. I haven’t thought about it much, just went along using it; time to have a look at that habit again and give it a bit of a polishing. Might even be a good idea to disassemble it, strip it down, fill in the dings, give it a new coat of finish and put it back together again. It may look and function just the same, but it has had some good attention and is renewed. Gardening in the spring is a great time to reflect on where I need renewal in my life. Replacing the gutters is an opportunity to reflect on how well I let storms roll off my back. Painting a room makes me think about the places in my soul that need a little freshening up. Redoing a bathroom has many opportunities for reflection. Just think about what it means to replace a toilet! You see, maintaining our homes provides a great opportunity for soul work. And just like our homes, there is always more to do around the soul.

Many of these jobs I like to do myself. It is amazing what you can do if you teach yourself, especially if you have the help of a friend or partner. Nothing that needs doing around the house is really a great mystery of very difficult. Mostly, it just takes practice. In the first house we ever bought, my husband and I found that the bathrooms all had plastic tiles rather than ceramic. We decided to go ahead and retile, but we certainly could not afford to hire someone to do it. The tile itself is not all that expensive, but the labor is. So we decided to teach ourselves how to do it. Those early tile jobs turned out a bit rough, but they were great learning experiences. Over the years, we have gotten much better at it. Although our tile jobs don’t look like the pros, we are pretty satisfied with the work. It can be challenging and take time, but it makes it possible to afford to tile when we want to. Recently, I learned how to put up wallboard and smooth out the seams. It may look difficult, but it really isn’t. That first job looks a bit rough, but it is in a place that most people won’t see. I have confidence that the next wallboard installation job I do will be pretty good. When you do it yourself, start simple, learn from your mistakes, and don’t expect perfection. When the job is difficult or needs to be of professional quality, hire someone. I always hire someone if the job is risky, too, like it requires climbing around on the roof or something like that. The same rules can apply to our soul work. Much of it we do ourselves. That’s good, and over time, we get better at it. Sometimes, though, the work is risky or requires a professional. One of our spiritual challenges is to know the difference and get help when we need it.

Homes and souls require maintenance and remodeling from time to time. They require regular attention, rearranging, and renewal. There is always something that needs doing around the house and around the soul.

This reflection is from our Going Home online retreat, which will be offered in April.  For more information about our Going Home retreat, visit

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