A couple of weeks ago, on a crisp autumn Saturday afternoon, we had a family fall housecleaning day. The children raked leaves, Liz washed storm windows while I put them up and cleaned out gutters. While we worked we laughed, enjoyed being out-of-doors and talked about the approaching winter. It was a good day to be together and ended in five sets of cold hands clutching warm mugs of hot chocolate.
Last week as I was driving across the state, my thoughts turned to that day. I remembered it with pleasure. I began to reflect on what had made it a good day and why the memories were warm and satisfying. After all, there’s nothing intrinsically pleasurable in washing windows raking leaves or cleaning out gutters!
A number of thoughts came to mind. First, it was good to be with my family and share a common task. Second, it felt good to be doing physical work and to be outside enjoying the autumn sunshine and brisk chilly wind. Third, there was a certain sense of accomplishment in knowing that we were prepared for the winter to come.
I was also aware of the comfort and security that comes with the practicing of certain routines. This was not the first time we had a family fall housecleaning day. For us, like many of you, I suspect, it is a family ritual.
My thoughts turned from family fall housecleaning to individual and corporate psychological and spiritual “housecleaning.” It struck me that we spend a great deal of time cleaning out and cleaning up material things in our life but probably not as much time on the more important aspects of our life.
Does our spiritual life need dusting off or a thorough scrubbing? Are the windows of our souls so dirty that it is difficult to see others or to get a true perspective on what is going on about us?
Are the channels for our emotions clogged like gutters with leaves of anger and the accumulation of suppressed hurts and disappointments? Do they overflow with the slightest sprinkle of controversy?
Of what personal, family and community routines or liturgies do we have regularly to take stock, discarding the broken and useless in our lives and polishing up forgotten virtues?
Spiritual and psychological house cleanings are personal and communal activities. The place for such housecleaning is the Church. As we enter the penitential season of Advent, a season of preparation and anticipation, it might be well for us to consider the need for a good fall housecleaning as members of the Church family.
On a personal level, Advent is a good time to make a private confession to a priest or a “soul friend” or to have a good honest prayerful talk with God. Personal confession, regardless of the method, is good for the soul. It allows us to rake out the guilt, wash clean the anger and unclog the depression.
Such confession and reflection prepares us, not for winter, but for the gift of a small Child in a manger. If our spiritual lives are too cluttered, there is the chance that we might overlook this small, simple but life-giving gift.
On a corporate, family or Church level, Advent is an appropriate time for communal confession and reflection. A method for such Church family housecleaning is SWEEPS. As the ‘next step” in Venture in Mission, SWEEPS is a means to confess our shortcomings in the ministries of Service, Worship, Education, Evangelism, Pastoral care and Stewardship.
In addition to honestly confessing where we are, SWEEPS offers us an opportunity to clen up our ecclesial actions. SWEEPS is a spiritual broom, a tool for congregational and diocesan housecleaning. But the tool is only as good as the congregation behind it!
SWEEPS can result in a thorough and honest housecleaning or a superficial one. It’s up to the particular Church members involved.
By no you have received or will be receiving the broom of SWEEPS in the form of a housecleaning package with instructions on how to use SWEEPS in your church. I hope that it will be a thorough, not superficial cleaning. Such is my intent for the diocese.
I have been and will continue to SWEEP my way around the Diocese by asking what I hope will be cleansing questions: what is your ministry and mission, how is it now, what needs to be “cleaned up”, thrown out or added in the areas of service, worship, education, evangelism, pastoral care or stewardship? I am addressing these questions to institutions within the Diocese as well as parish and mission churches.
I am not particularly interested in superficial cleaning or answers. Deep cleaning, honest confession is the best spiritual cleanser on the ecclesiastical market.
In the upcoming months I will be sharing some thoughts on the various components of SWEEPS in this column. More important, I will be looking forward to sweeping with you as I make visitations during the approaching new Church year.
As I said at Diocesan Convention, now is the T.I.M.E. – To Increase Ministry Effectiveness. Now is the TIME to SWEEP! Begin your congregational housecleaning with confessional prayer and then let us get on with the hard work of prayerful cleansing reflection.
Good SWEEPING in Christ.
P.S. Perhaps a cup of hot chocolate will be waiting when the job is done!