by Anne Basye
We’ve been doing it since time immemorial. No matter how rustic or transitory the shelter, humans—usually female— awaken one fine spring morning to surroundings that suddenly feel dank and stale. Into a sudsy bucket go knives, pots, clothing and whatever warms our family at night. Out go the smelly old boughs or straw or sheets for the beds; in come fresh new greens or linens. At the end, a twig of blossoms brightens the space.
Spring cleaning is a pattern so ancient and deep, it’s incorporated into human faith practices. Scrubbing living spaces is an essential step to preparing for spring equinox celebrations in Iran, Thailand and China. For Orthodox Christians, the first week in Lent is “Clean Week,” which kicks off with “Clean Monday.” For Jewish people, Passover can’t start until every last crumb of leaven has been hunted down.
Spring certainly makes me want to fling open windows and clean from top to bottom. Whether life is going smoothly or bumping through a rough patch, I find a good deep clean to be healing and restoring.
CLEANING TYPES AND PATTERNS
Decades of housekeeping have taught me to believe that spring cleaning comes in two flavors. There’s cleaning to keep things exactly the same, and then there’s cleaning to make space for growth, for something entirely
I’m a card-carrying member of the cleaning-for-newness-and-growth camp, but not this year. Now I keep my mom’s house. A champion homemaker who values order, she’s part of the cleaning-to-fend-off-change camp. Now that she can’t clean anymore, she is doubling down. With caregivers and hospice staff in and out of the house to care for my father mostly, but for her too in the bed beside him, her way of being in the world has been
disrupted. She can’t get her world back, but insisting on an orderly house, with everything in the same place as always, helps her feel more in control.
Still, she can’t avoid disorder. To really clean deeply, you have to strip beds, flip mattresses, empty cabinets and beat rugs. In short, you have to make a mess. That’s one reason I love Franciscan contemplative Richard Rohr’s phrase for the eternal pattern of change and transformation: “Order, Disorder, Reorder.” Could there be a better description of spring cleaning?
Rohr says that for change and transformation to happen, we must move from Order through “a period—or even many periods— of Disorder.” Often that means loss and disappointment. “There will be a death, a disease, a disruption to our normal way of thinking or being in the world,” Rohr says. “It is necessary if any real growth is to occur.”
The Disorder stage is all about letting go of control and stepping “out of the driver’s seat for a while,” Rohr says. (See Rohr’s The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder [Franciscan Media, 2020].) Then we can open ourselves to Reorder, where we radically “let go and let God.” Which is why the template for “Order, Disorder, Reorder” is Jesus, who surrendered to God’s will, was crucified and was resurrected.
Order, Disorder, Reorder. Life, Death, Resurrection. We enact this pattern again and again as we live our lives and clean our living spaces.
To talk about spring cleaning, change and transformation, I give ELCA pastor Becca Ehrlich a call. She shares with me that her recent Order, Disorder, Reorder journey included the death of her infant son, surgery, a chronic-
illness diagnosis and multiple job changes and moves. After downsizing from a 3,000-squarefoot house to a small apartment, she and her husband felt “like we were drowning in stuff,” she says.
A CHRISTIAN MINIMALIST
Looking around for help, Becca stumbled upon minimalism. Minimalists try to curate their time and activities so they can focus on what is important. Often they reduce their possessions and cut back on commitments.
The more Becca read, the more she realized that Jesus was a minimalist. So now she’s a Christian minimalist—perhaps the only one to refer to herself this way. She chronicles her journey at the intersection of Christian faith and minimalism in her blog at christianminimalism.com.
“Jesus taught us that the purpose of life is to love God and love others,” she says. “His parable in Luke 12:16-21 of the rich man who built bigger barns to store his grain teaches us that life is not about accumulating stuff.” Consumer society teaches the opposite. “We automatically strive for wealth and possessions,” Becca says. “Christian minimalism tries to deconstruct that and make us remember that Jesus tried to teach us 2,000 years ago not to do that.”
So how would a Christian minimalist approach spring cleaning?
“By going through and deciding what adds value to life in the name of our faith,” Becca says. “Ask yourself: ‘What is helping me serve God and neighbor and bringing value to my life in a way that helps me focus on what matters most?’”
Instead of trying to reorganize or declutter, she recommends giving what you own a long, hard look. Identify what
is most important and consider removing everything else. Well, almost everything else. “People tell me, ‘I like nice things!’ I’m not saying get rid of them, just be more intentional about what things you have,” she says. “So often we keep stuff that served us well in the past or might serve us well in the future, but it isn’t serving us in the present.”
Formerly a serious online shopper, Becca went on a yearlong shopping fast. She channeled her newly freed time and energy into earning a doctor of ministry degree in Christian spirituality from United Lutheran Seminary.
Practicing Christian minimalism has helped her use her spiritual gifts “in ways that are actually of service to our world and God,” she says.
During this pandemic year, Becca has watched people forced to streamline their lives begin to spend more time with family. “Now we have a choice,” she says. “Do we want to continue on that path and be intentional, or go back to our previous path because it was comfortable and society urges us that way?”
This article is excerpted from the April 2021 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.