I remember the piles of stuff.
It was summer and everything was ahead of us, a move to Madison, a new parish, and a new life four hours over the eastern horizon. There was so much to do, so much to learn, so much to get ready.
And there was also all kinds of stuff.
For over a quarter century our little Cape Cod in St. Paul had been home. It had been part of our life, our routine, in fact the longest single place that either of us had ever lived. It was ingrained into our personalities. And over the years it had become filled with the accumulation of our life, not just memories but little tokens and books and things and what we thought were necessities or at least things we were too thrifty to get rid of just now.
We weren’t hoarders, just regular people living in a regular house that slowly became full of things The move was a wake up call, we had to lighten the load, we had take just exactly what we needed with us and for the sake of space and ease of transport only take that which mattered the most. Anyone who’s ever moved knows this. In a moment the thought of traveling on remind you of all the things that somehow filled your life while you weren’t paying attention.
It had to go.
And sometimes the decision were easy. College notes from the 80’s? I had no idea why I even kept them in first place. Clothes we hadn’t worn for ages? No problem. There was a whole lot of stuff we didn’t immediately know what it was and other things that had long outlived their usefulness. Easy call. Into the garbage.
And there were harder things.
Some of the things we knew needed to go still had memories attached to them. As we filed through papers and rummaged through boxes those old stories would come back to life again, the past was present, and from time to time there were even tears as we knew, deep down, we had to part with these things even though they weren’t junk. They simply had to go.
By the time we finished we were sometimes relieved, sometimes exhausted, sometimes sad, but also ready, light, and prepared for the next adventure. One last look at the empty house, leave the keys, White Bear avenue to east I 94 and straight on to Fitchburg.
Its Meat Fare Sunday, the day when, as Lent is calling, the Church in her holy wisdom asks us to let go of flesh meats. In another week it will be Cheese Fare Sunday as we allow dairy foods to leave for a while. These things we let go are not works to appease God or things we somehow add to our pile of good deeds so He will save us. Instead, we’ve learned over the centuries that when we discipline our stomach, our physical desires, by periodic abstinence, we also learn the art of disciplining our hearts and souls. In fasting we learn a very important spiritual principle, the leaving aside of that which is less for the sake of that which is better.
So in Lent, and all the fasting seasons and days of the Church, we lay aside certain things to remind us to lay aside all those things which would hinder us from traveling the narrow road of salvation. Food, yes, but also attitudes, thoughts, actions, hurts, grudges, harsh judgments, spiritual sloth, anything that would weigh us down as we run the race, anything that would bind us to this world as we journey to heaven, any and all of the sins that so easily beset us.
Sometimes if you want to move forward you have to let go.
Yes, it can be very difficult sometimes. There are times when each of us needs to realize there are things that keep us from the fullness of our life in God that we, if we were to be honest, actually cherish. There is clutter that’s sentimental and sometimes cleaning house to step out by faith into God’s future can be frightening because we might not have control.
Still, Lent is calling us today and as we let go of flesh meats in anticipation the voice of our Lord is softly calling to us to prepare to have a season where we can cleanse our hearts, our souls, our lives, of everything that would weigh us down, everything that would keep us from being the child of God we were meant to be, all the stuff that’s accumulated in our life with no real purpose except to hold us back.
And one final word.
It’s good to feel light and clean and fresh in body and soul. There is joy as everything that’s truly needed finds its proper place and the depressing clutter is jettisoned from the house of our soul. Over the years those who practice the spiritual life of Lent to the best of their ability and with holy intent increasingly discover this and begin to actually crave this wonderful and beautiful time of year, a springtime of our souls. I say this from my own experience as well. In the years since becoming Orthodox I’ve discovered how much I need Lent, how much I need to declutter, how much I need to leave behind, and how good it is to draw closer to the God who, despite my many sins, loves me with a love beyond words. In that spirit be encouraged to step out, prepare, and live these coming weeks with all the faith and love you can muster so that when Pascha comes we can shine with the holy light that illumines all.