As every woman who has been pregnant knows, there comes a time when, no matter how tired and uncomfortable, swollen ankles or not, a deep urge to clean house rises from places primaeval. Often called "the nesting instinct," the compulsion was so strong a few days before my youngest daughter's birth that I canceled house guests so I could organize my closets. To this day, I feel a twinge of regret I just didn't have them down no matter what.
The liturgical season of Advent is set aside so that we may welcome anew the Spirit of the Christ child, preparing ourselves for the miracle of a personal incarnation which brings peace, freedom, forgiveness and joy. But as anyone who has cleaned house knows, the process is not always pleasant. To get deep into corners may require opening up some boxes tucked away in hopes of being forgotten, or scrubbing grimy layers formed by neglect. God, in his desire to fill us more and more with his love, gently nudges us to open up each room, each closet, each cupboard so that it may be refurbished and infused with new life.
When I think about the courage that it takes to be open to God's Spirit in our lives, I am inspired by my daughter, Aletheia. About two years ago she took up ink and yupo and began to create art that came straight from her soul. We were all caught off-guard by the intensity, color and movement that jumped off the page. Soon her apartment was stacked with art supplies, canvases, and frames. I've pulled a few of her pieces into a slide show above.
Aletheia, whose name is Greek for truth, talks about her art this way: Art has become the agent for freedom in my life. I was bound by perfectionism, control, and inadequacy; painting has allowed me to get messy with my hands and be ok with messiness in my heart.
It's this same willingness to embrace the messy that I think Rumi is getting at in his poem The Guest House. Rumi, the Persian poet and Sufi mysic, knew the wisdom of what we might call the spiritual exercise of reflection, sitting quietly with our experiences. In this state, our thoughts and emotions are to be welcomed, invited to a cup of tea while we listen to what they tell us of our past hurts or present joys. By welcoming these unexpected visitors with grace we will be led to new freedom; allowing the violent sweeping will only clear us out for a new delight.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Note: Aletheia's art can also be found here.