It’s spring cleaning time again. The planet leads the way with a spring solstice; nature follows as ferns uncurl new growth to replace their dying fronds; the eagles strip out their nest in the nearby spruce and refurbish it with new sticks and branches; the daffodils and jonquils announce the season with their bright yellows; and we happily clean the windows and sweep out the garage as we welcome a fresh start to these warming days.
In the Christian liturgical calendar it is the time of Lent, the six weeks preceding Easter that is observed as a kind of spiritual spring cleaning. The traditional practice was to increase one’s awareness of God by abstaining from a favorite food or pleasure, and use the season as a time to reflect on one’s life with austerity as a means of expressing humility and gratitude. That tradition has largely been neglected over the years as our religious communities continue to relegate liturgical seasons to secular holidays and shopping opportunities, but it is a practice we would do well to continue to observe. As a Quaker, I like to believe that the Lenten practice would be best honored year round, and I try to do that.
But I want to commemorate this Lenten season of spring cleaning this evening by inviting us to acknowledge that we are indeed in a season when we are at least invited to especially consider the importance of spiritual discipline. During this time of Covid and historical reckonings, we have been living through a period of sacrificing our usual schedules and pleasures. When so much of our accustomed life was interrupted and deferred, we were confused and disappointed, but we also appreciated that Covid also produced some important “spring cleaning” of our lives to remind us of what was truly most dear and precious to us.
These Covid years actually provided us essential lesson the Lenten tradition of sacrifice was meant to convey: we were invited to focus on the essentials of life, to do some personal “spring cleaning,” to pause with humility and gratitude for all that we have as well as what we did without. There is fulfillment and joy in the “spring cleaning” exercise. It is gratifying to “clean up our act” and start afresh, but we can’t really get to that status of appreciation until we have done the preparative work.
And to extend that idea further, personally each of us can think of things in our lives that need a good airing and a fresh start. We would all be well served if we were to faithfully observe a Lenten ritual that would call attention to do some spring cleaning in our personal and communal lives.
As I watched dynamics of Ketanji Jackson Brown’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing this week, one takeaway was the need for “spring cleaning” about how to conduct those hearings, and about how awful she was treated. But then the joyful, redemptive, cleansing of Cory Booker’s speech provided a so desperately needed affirmation of how we must not compromise the dignity of our responsible and competent public officials but, where deserving, express our gratitude for their service.
And the world continues to be engaged, directly or indirectly, in another world war as we follow the evil and horror of the suffering of innocent people in the Ukraine - and for what? I can only hope that the ultimate impact will be that we can again try to end the filth of war. Historically, after the experience of war there is a surge of peace building and commitments to prevent war in the future. As the horrible destruction of Ukraine again demonstrates, we must continue to find ways to avoid war, to abolish it. War abolition is far more grave than a simple Lenten cleansing sacrifice, of course, but it is the extreme version of a cleansing the world needs.
May we hold the world in a spirit of cleansing hope in these so momentous days.