This post originally appeared on Sue Livingston’s website Mulling Time. It is republished here with permission.
I knew it when, in early April, I spotted a rug hanging on a line. Now, that is an eye-catching sight nowadays! I do not know how many years it had been since I had seen a patterned, room-sized rug stretched along a line for beating. Such a sight in Winter Springs, Florida, is even more arresting than it would be in a rural area. Clotheslines and clothes hanging on them to dry are not allowed in my upscale neighborhood. For that reason, the rug was stretched atop a zip-line cable strung between two trees with the pulley hanging down on one end. The pines would have supported a thrilling death slide ride, but the rug hung level in the April breeze. Perfect! That breeze carried the smell of first-mowing grass, of early spring petunias and vines, and sunshine, along with the memory of an ancient rite—spring cleaning—and a mulling time.
While my children and grandchildren probably think I can recall the beginnings of the rite of spring housecleaning—raking out and replacing the straw that caught all the winter’s filth above dirt floors—I cannot. But I do remember helping my grandmother spread quilts on her Alabama lawn in spring’s sunshine and gardenia-scented breezes to rid them of their musty odor of fireplace and dust and cold. While I mostly watched, she and one of the lady tenants on the farm also scoured fireplaces and hearths, closets, kitchen cabinets, and outdoor sheds; washed, starched, and ironed curtains, doilies, linen tablecloths and napkins, and the lace curtains that hung on the French doors between the dining and living rooms; swept the walls, ceilings, baseboards, and floors; dusted and polished every plank of wood in the house; shined windows until they squeaked; and mended everything that needed a run through her foot-pedaled Singer sewing machine. When the re-freshening storm had ended, every item in her home had a designated place, and it sparkled as it occupied that place. It’s amazing that we all survived the spring cleaning rituals she imposed!
Granny was almost as deliberate and demanding as the squirrel I watched prepare her nest for the new season and her growing family all day one early spring. The eastern gray tree squirrel wife, almost certainly anxious to be ready for birthing and baby-squirrel rearing, had made the all-too-human kind of mistake of marrying a gray squirrel husband that did not share her determination to have a perfect home place. As I watched, she frantically gathered leaves and twigs from below our hardwood trees into small piles and then looked around for the masculine help she needed to transport the materials up the twenty-five-plus feet of pine tree to the shaggy nest she wanted remodeled from the year before.
She did find husband squirrel—over and over again. She would locate him shuffling in the fallen leaves near the lake, run toward him, and pull out every nagging stop: barks, chirps, buzzes, and high-pitched cat-like calls. I was accustomed to squirrel chatter, but this had wife tone, and he recognized it. Her distress was not expressed in intruder-warning or out-of-food barks such as I had heard when hawks flew over or the feeder was empty; her distress was expressed at duration and decibel levels deliberately set to become his distress. Thirty seconds after she began her chatter, he was climbing that pine with sticks in his mouth.
Then the problem became that on his next trip down the tree, he forgot the mission she had assigned him or remembered his personal mission down by the lake, and he disappeared again. His forgetfulness was seen and raised several fold by her determination. From early morning to late evening, the gray squirrel couple danced their spring cleaning dance. Once, he even hid around the deck corner, deep in shadows, only to be found and berated. By evening, the nest was ready for occupancy, or at least up to the squirrel wife’s domestic standards, and she moved in to raise her first litter of the year.
Granny’s purposefulness and the gray squirrel’s matching single-mindedness to inventory, clear out, spring clean, refurbish their homes are duplicated throughout all nature because they are necessary for all God’s creation to thrive. Of even greater importance than taking care of our abodes, though, is taking care of our spiritual lives.
Some religions and cultures actually set aside specific holidays, rituals, or holy days for the purpose of inner spiritual reflection, inventory, and renewal. The Holiest Day of the Jewish year is Yom Kippur. As part of observing Yom Kippur that day and in the days leading up to it, Jews take spiritual and relational inventory for sinful or unbecoming behavior. They seek to make amends for their behavior, and then they seek forgiveness from those they have injured and from God. (At least that is what I understand as a Christian, and I apologize if I have mangled this explanation.) I love the idea of that ritual not because it values works but because it serves to remind participants of the value of relationships among believers and God.
Many other cultures have like customs, such as the Chinese New Year Festival, which combines thorough cleaning practices with relationship care, but besides our resolution-making-and-breaking New Year celebration, we American Christians do not have a season or even a day designated for considering, pitching the bad, cleaning the good, and refurbishing our relationships with others and with God, our inner lives. I call for one!
With the arrival of spring, we all would benefit from a look at our customs of worship and a survey of our relationships with those among whom we worship such as my Bible study pastor recently triggered. Following that personal inventory, we should make the changes identified as enhancements to our spiritual experiences and reflective of the foundations of our belief. He has suggested that our group move from a formal, church-building-centered, Wednesday-night Bible study that we have long enjoyed to a home-centered, family-like Bible study that will encourage the application of what we learn in the Word to our personal relationships with other believers and, we hope, attract to our group those who desire the love of Christ and His followers. Saying that he “cannot explain the importance of the journey we are embarking on” and that “a change is a-coming,” he has sought our input as a family of students. Yes! His idea is a step toward answering my call.
Whether or not his particular idea will work remains to be discovered. If it does, we have much to anticipate of fellowship and study leading to spiritual growth. If it does not, we have the spring-cleaning model. What I sense now is the excitement of revival. Any homemaker will agree (including Granny and gray squirrel wife, I am sure) that the work of rethinking, re-evaluating, remaking is ongoing. Stay tuned for reports as spring becomes summer and on and on.