At the end of a yoga class I attended at a women's retreat last year, the instructor invited us to take a slip of paper from a bowl with wise words for the rest of our day. My wise words still sit on the edge of my bedroom mirror: I am enough. I know enough. I have enough. How would embracing this truth affect my day if I believed it down to my toes and deep in my cells?
The holiday season makes it especially difficult to hang on to this kind of spiritual center. Everywhere we look, drive, walk and engage in daily life, society communicates the opposite message along with a quick, expensive solution to the malady that we are egregiously lacking in so many ways.
The spiritual days of preparation before the birth of Jesus, called Advent, is really designed to re-center us in enoughness. God has come in human form to meet me and enter my life as I am and complete me with love that is enough for eternity. We look to the arc of the future and rest in knowing that Jesus will return to bring this world to its fulfilment in God. No amount of material possessions, social recognition, accomplishments or wealth can offer us this peace; we always need another fix, and another, and another. The trap is that we can never be or have enough of anything in a consumer-driven culture, yet we keep grasping.
Embracing through centering prayer that in God I am enough, I know enough, I have enough, completely changes the energy of my day. I can lay aside anxious seeking and enjoy the multitude of blessings around me. I can love more genuinely, I can act more justly, I can share more freely, I can accept others more openly, I can forgive more readily, I can live more simply--not because I muster it with strained effort, but because God shows through. This Advent, I am praying for the gift of enoughness.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had to sell a house. I was dreading it, but as with most challenges, it has brought it's own gift. We have cleared out bookshelves and knick-knacks, we’ve thinned the contents of closets, cupboards, and countertops, we’ve moved out old furniture, and we’ve donated multiple bags of clothing and carloads of stuff. We’ve painted and polished, scrubbed and shined, touched up and replaced. We have passed on treasures we hope others can use. Our house now looks and feels spacious—so spacious that someone else can walk through our home and imagine it as theirs, holding their very own stuff. I hope so. I pray every day for God to send a family here who will love living here as much as we have.
I think of this prayer in the morning, when I must take extra time to make sure the sinks are clean, the garbage is empty, the counters are clear, the dishes are washed, the mailed is managed, and all the flotsam and jetsam that can accumulate during the previous day is tucked away. Some days it feels like a hassle, especially if I’m running late for work. Yet other days, I affirm that I am not doing this as a short-term stint, but as a new daily habit. How would my life feel if I always kept such a spare and orderly home, where cleaning up and putting away was done for me and my peace, rather than to “stage” my home for sale?
I have come to relish coming home to a pristine home that remains beautiful and picked up and cleared of extra stuff. The spaciousness around me opens up a spaciousness within me. I have more energy for tasks in the evening, I can focus longer at work, time seems more readily available, my to-do list feels a little less daunting.
It’s become so clear why simplicity, sparseness and releasing attachments to stuff are necessarily part of a deepening spiritual path. A spare environment can lead us to an abundant inner posture as distractions, busy-ness, detail-management, worldly desires, and other agendas fade away—there is no junk around to remind us of all that the world wants us to be and do. I can look inside for what needs to be done. I can ask God what I might do with this offering of time and space. I can connect with those I love. I can more readily ease my way into the peace that allows my body to relax and rest. I can give thanks. I can be.
For Christmas Dan bought us a 3-night stay in NYC to hear jazz singer, Stacey Kent perform at the Birdland Jazz Club, and to see a Broadway Show of my choice (we saw The Book of Mormon- very crude, but hilarious!). We were there for “snowzilla,” the second biggest blizzard in the history of the city, missing the record by only 1/10th of an inch. So we also got in an extra Broadway show, The School of Rock, which was superb and so much fun.
If you’ve been to Manhattan, you know the fascinating diversity of people and languages, and the heightened anticipation of never knowing what sort of image of God is going to walk around the corner. But on this trip, I was more often struck by the economy of space. I’m a person who likes space around me. In fact, it’s become a bit of a family joke. I like space around me when I sleep, when I sit on the couch, above my head and around me when I drive (which is difficult when one wants to drive an environmentally friendly car). I get uncomfortable when if feel cramped, crowded or pinned down. But when you’re on an island that's not even 23 square miles with 1.6 million of your closest friends, space is at a premium.
The corner grocery store we went to had items packed from floor to ceiling with an entire deli, salad and dessert bar packed in behind the counter. I loved walking through these stores and marveling at how many things I could buy from such a tiny space. We went to a few restaurants that were only about 12 feet wide. This didn’t stop an Ecuadorian, Indian or Chinese family from putting up six tables that could squeeze in 15 customers to delight with their homemade recipes.
The Broadway theaters we attended are small compared to our St. Louis-style events. The theaters seated 1100 or 1500 people compared to the 4500 that fill the Fox Theater or the 11,000 who can watch a Muny production in the summer. The bathrooms were tiny, our hotel room was cramped, and the counter space for our stuff was limited. We packed for three days and stayed for five, so I used my products more sparingly to make sure they lasted.
Rather than being cramped, I found in these small spaces a surprising sense of relief, even comfort. They invited me into a simplicity that evoked an expansiveness of spirit and energy which were no longer consumed by stuff and space management. I am left wondering how much valuable energy is eaten up by dealing with stuff rather than engaging in life-affirming, spirit-led relationships and engagements. An economy of space leads to an economy of energy expended.
For a Lenten practice, one of my former spiritual directors and a Benedictine nun would give away one item a day for the forty days. She always worried that she would not have enough to give away because she had already taken a vow of poverty and didn’t really have that much stuff. But she was always surprised at Easter that she did have forty items she had accumulated over the year that were not really essential to daily life. She found the release of these items freeing and spiritually renewing. I could probably give away ten things or more a day for Lent and still have more than I need, but at least I can begin.
Photo Credit: Shanna Ravindra http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/tehuitzingo-deli/