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The art of tidying up

Thursday, March 14, 2019

From Matthew 7
Ask, and it will be given to you.

What a dangerous invitation. Like many of us, I am already crushed by too much stuff. I don’t need more books to read or cans of food to eat or beautiful things for my office shelves. I don’t need more DVDs or musical instruments or electronic screens. I don’t need more places to go, and I don’t need more miles to go before I sleep.

Today I am in a thicket of close-knit thoughts. I have enough time, for once, to consider these words I write. Ask and it will be given. For what, in God’s name, should I ask?

I keep coming back to poetry, swift words caught out of thin air, like a bird at rest before its flight, captured on the page, still for just a moment, waiting to be read. Poems open my closed mind. Poems relax me in their simplicity. So I turn the page, open my hands, and begin to read.

“Quietness” (a poem by Persian jurist and theologian written around the year 1250)

Inside this new love, die
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like somebody suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side.
Die, and be quiet.
Quietness is the surest sign that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running from silence.
The speechless full moon
comes out now.

Marie Kondo “tidies up” by discarding everything that does not spark joy. She has inspired many of us to empty our closets and bookshelves and pantries and then refill them more simply. Her secret is to take out everything, pile it up in the middle of the room, and put back only what gives you joy. This can be difficult. Joy comes in disguise and often surprises me.

“The Coat” (by Canadian poet Dennis Lee, a favorite of writer and speaker Fr. Ronald Rolheiser)

I patched my coat with sunlight
It lasted for a day.
I patched my coat with moonlight
But the lining came away.
I patched my coat with lightning
And it flew off in the storm.
I patched my coat with darkness
That coat has kept me warm.

I imagine Jesus knocking at my door, holding a package he wants to give me. Like all good parents, God never brings bad stuff, but only good. Not rocks, but bread. What is in this package Jesus has for me?

I open it. I am surprised and look at Jesus with dismay. But I must not judge too quickly.

Mary Oliver wrote a very short poem called “The Use of Sorrow:”

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

* * *

In this afternoon’s simple silence, Lord, I open my eyes to see that darkness need not hold fear, ignorance, evil or despair. If I make space for it, your gift promises mystery, potential, and renewal. My “unknown” is not unknown to you. Hand it to me, Lord, I will receive it. Standing like this with you, at the open door, there is only joy.

"Quietness," from The Essential Rumi, 2nd Edition, translated by Coleman Barks, p. 22, 2003
Dennis Lee, “The Coat,” from So Cool, 2005
Mary Oliver, “The Use of Sorrow,” from Thirst, p 52, 2007

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