Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tidying Up

(Note: This blog marks my first as a syndicated contributor to the Austin Catholic New Media blog. Check out ACNM's excellent New Evangelization-based media here:

Attention, Catholics! Do you want to grow massively in holiness? Do you long to kindle the great flames of piety and prayerfulness in your heart? Do you want to do this easily, quickly, and effectively, in one simple step? I submit to you an answer that will likely make every young Catholic cringe in despair and every Catholic parent pump their fist in glorious triumph: Clean your damn room.

What? What is this? Has some irritated parent hijacked this blog, or paid its author to coat household chores in theology to make them easier to swallow? Nay, I say to thee. This truly is the stuff of legend and sainthood. And I want you to know that I write this from a position of humility and shame, as piles of unfinished labor surround my bed. I will rectify my own situation soon enough, but first, I feel it necessary to prompt you to do the same.

Besides, I'm pretty sure doing what your mom says is a Commandment or something.

See, I may be young, but I've lived in a variety of different places already - with my parents, with good  roommates, with bad roommates, alone, and even with a quadriplegic whom I had to feed and tend. And if there's any one thing that I've learned from this variegated lifestyle, it's that a man's household and the innermost workings of his heart seem to be intrinsically and inextricably linked. The sum of all these life experiences can really be boiled down to one trite-sounding adage that would look positively wonderful on a refrigerator magnet:

The state of your home is the state of your heart.

"But," you might ask, "what meanest thou by such a rumination? What doth this bitter-smelling herb portend for a man, that he might fain seek its enactment upon his daily ritual, despite its enseamed countenance?" To which I would first answer, "Dude, bro, you sound hella like Shakespeare. Chill out."

And then, after you had lowered your ambient temperature as requested, I would explain that there are two sides to this coin, one of signification and the other of transmogrification. (Man, I'm bustin' out ALL the good vocabulary words today.) What I mean by this is that the state of your home both REFLECTS and AFFECTS the state of your heart.

Think about it. What is the state of your heart right now? Are there a lot of things that need a lot of work? Are there sins with which you are struggling daily, or perhaps just hardships that are taking all of your strength to endure? Look around your room. Does your room reflect that state of heart? Do you have a bunch of dirty clothes everywhere? Are things just propped up in places, originally intended to be moved and put away, yet left to collect moss and crickets as your life rolls on?

If I had to guess... no, probably not the room of a saint.

Do you maybe not spend as much time as you'd like in prayer, cleaning up your heart and removing those stains and wounds from its walls and floors? And as a parallel question: have you been meaning to clean up those dirty dishes and soda cans from meals you brought into your room, but just never gotten around to it?

Or perhaps your life is going rather well right now. Maybe your heart is in a good state, and your prayer life invigorating. Look around your room. Is your room straightened up nicely? Perhaps there are one or two things still needing attention, but is it for the most part a well-ordered area? Does it feel warm and comfortable, inviting, like a real home?

Perhaps now you've noticed some parallels between your heart and your hearth. It's worth investigating further, on deeper levels. Do you spend much of your active time in your room/home, or are you always out and about, or do you balance your time between both? Too much or too little of one or the other can render you a recluse or a social parasite. Parallel question of the heart: Do you spend much time on your interior life, or do you fill all your time with outward acts of faith, or a balance of both? A lack in either area can result in a dead faith (James 2:26) or an empty, meaningless lifestyle (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Look back over the course of your life, to times when things were going really well between you and God, or times when you were really suffering or struggling. At the times of spiritual consolation (the good times), what did your room look like? And what about in spiritual desolation (the bad times)? You should notice a pattern in your room that reflects the path your heart has taken.

As Catholics, we have great, wonderful examples of the connection between living-space and loving-space in our churches, cathedrals, and religious orders. For example, take the Franciscans, or the Poor Clares. They take intense vows of poverty, giving up the creature comforts of the world, and their rooms are very simply and functionally appointed. And if you could look into their hearts, you would see simplicity of desire, a humble and healthy poverty of spirit, a profound gratitude for those small blessings and gifts across which we stumble. Or perhaps we should look to the Sistine Chapel in Rome. An external shell of modest proportion and appointment enclosing a powerful display of grandeur and beauty, a humble housing for a heavenly holiness - such a description could just as easily be applied to the building as to the man with the funny hat who says Mass there so often.


But your room is not just an indicator of the state of your heart, a mere barometer of piety. No, no, it is much more. It is a powerful tool by which you can change the state of your heart, if it so happens that your heart is in need of a good changing. If your room is a mess, take the time to clean it. Pick up the dirty clothes and do some laundry. Clear off the trash from your desk. Vacuum. Straighten up your bed. Throw away the junk you don't need anymore. Maybe donate some clothing or other still-usable stuff to your local St. Vincent de Paul Society or Goodwill. Get some Pledge and Windex and clean the wood and windows in there. Do it well, and do it RIGHT, and by the end, you may just find that you have experienced something new: a catharsis, a release of pressure, a little river of joy and energy running into the cracks of your tired heart. 

One of the most wonderful things about Catholicism is the pure sacramentalism of it all, the recognition of the fact that yes, our faith can bring about a change in our actions, but our actions can also bring about a change in our faith; the action of cleaning your room can actually enact a change in your prayer life. As integrated beings, yes, our souls do affect our bodies, but we cannot forget that our bodies also affect our souls. See, our rooms often get dirty because we're not taking the time to set things right with ourselves. We're not making sure our details are in order; we're just waking up in the morning, leaving to do whatever we need to do for the day, and then flopping back down on our bed at night without a second thought to how our lives are really going right now. When we stop and force ourselves to notice what's wrong and what needs fixing, and then actually take the time and effort to fix it, everything begins to run much more smoothly. You'll notice that waking up in a clean room gives you such a different day, a different state of mind and heart, than waking up in a pigsty. Your heart will be able to rest peacefully knowing that all is well, that things are under control, that everything will be just fine and the details are getting worked out. It seriously makes a bigger difference than you think it does. 

The state of your home is the state of your heart.

Try it. At the risk of your parents or roommates or anyone else wondering what the hell's gotten into you, just try it. You can even do it secretly if you like. Just put it all in order in there, and watch as the fruits of your labors bloom in your heart. You will find that it is easier to live, to laugh, to work, to pray, if your home is in good order. And you won't even be embarrassed when you have friends over.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some practicing-of-my-own-preaching to do.

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