Spring cleaning: Holy Wednesday’s transformative tradition

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Spring cleaning: Holy Wednesday’s transformative tradition
Photo: Shutterstock/Andrew_K

My mother would be shocked to hear this now, but I love tidying my house. Moving through the spaces in my home, banishing junk mail from the dining table, commanding those shoes in the hall to get in line and making neat stacks of sundries—such activities are the perfect antidote to work that has me at my desk for too many hours, collecting mental dust and physical inertia.

Kate Crane. Photo: Matthew Townsend

Yet tidying, however satisfying, is not the same as cleaning. For me, real cleaning—vigorous scrubbing, dusting, unearthing, whitening, deodorizing and organizing—usually comes on the heels of some sense or foresight of change. Cleaning happens when I recognize that something new is emerging out of my previous circumstances, habits and familiar stimuli. If I am honest, I attack my dusty baseboards not at the obviously necessary point (when they are veiled in grey debris), but when there is some turmoil, frustration, excitement or revelation in my life. The housework—the deep clean—is an act of midwifery, helping to bring a new reality, or new aspect of reality, into being. It always seems that without a deep clean, or some similar rearrangement of worldly objects, new realities might not arrive. This is an especially important consideration at Easter, the greatest of new realities for all Christians.

Impulses like the one to clean profoundly, I believe, are graces from God: implantations of vague and indescribable desires that He gives in order to allow us to sacralize them; form them into meaningful, prayerful action, and offer those graces back to Him. Our church traditions, as always, offer us ways and means to do this. Before the starting line of Maundy Thursday propels us into Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter, there is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. Tradition has it that on Holy Wednesday, especially, we clean. This is a shared tradition. In Jewish households, it is traditional to reestablish the kitchen as kosher and remove all sources of leavening agents (like yeast) in preparation for Passover.

Today and tomorrow as I scrub and sweep, I will reflect on the past 40 days of Lent. How has the season worked through me? Did I meet my commitments? For those commitments I did meet, how have they renewed me? I’ll think back on what I prayed for; what I wanted the Lord to change in me, to help me through. I’ll remember the new realities I have been yearning for, while preparing body and household for the coming reality of the Risen Christ and all that means for us.

Understanding that this has been a Lent (and will be an Eastertide) like no other, I offer some suggestions to meet Holy Wednesday’s call to clean our domiciles. Knowing that our community is struggling under the weight of the coronavirus, isolation and a yearning for a normal Easter, an entire spring-clean shebang may be beyond most of us. But the Bible tells us that the smallest grains of faith can grow mighty. Consider these little ideas:

Pick the one corner that has been bugging you for ages. For me, this is a dusty bit of kitchen floor with red sauce splatters on it; for you, it might be those scuff marks on the wall. Really, if I only cleaned this square foot of space, it would feel pretty transformative. Theoretical house guests may not see it, but I know that it is there. Like a call to confession—to fully and comprehensively examine my sins—I need to address that corner, as well as attractively arrange the canisters on my countertops.

Focus on the most-occupied piece of furniture. Many of us are probably spending a lot more time on the couch, or using it for more work and play (and worship) activities. After fluffing all the pillows, folding all the blankets and vacuuming the crevices, you may try deodorizing the couch by sprinkling essential oil-diffused baking soda over the cushions and leaving it for about an hour to soak up smells. Remove the baking soda by vacuuming.  Black or green tea leaves also deodorize—you may use leaves that are fresh or used (they must be completely dry, of course). Vacuum after an hour or two.

Organize a closet, filing cabinet or drawer. Often those invisible spaces carry more spiritual weight than we realize! The drawer may be closed, but I know its contents.

Unburden the kitchen sink. In my experience (and because we don’t have a dishwasher), the kitchen sink is the crucible of familial balance and barometer of household feeling. If you’re finding yourself oppressed by dirty dishes, here’s a thought: Identify the number of plates, pieces of cutlery and drinking glasses that your family requires for two meals. Pack up all the rest and store them away. Fewer dishes means, well, fewer dishes. And at some point in the day, you’ll be forced to wash them in order to eat your third meal. You may find this an interesting way to recognize our abundance, give thanks, and practice living with less.

Rearrange furniture, hang the art that’s been sitting on the floor, move those things that make it awkward to navigate your home. My mother loves rearranging her furniture; of course I do too. As kids, we always found the activity fun—we would even draw out various floor plans, both realistic and idealistic. It made everything seem new! Jutting out your hip (or constantly stubbing your toe) in order to make your way around the coffee table will make you resent your coffee table. Casting loving attention onto the material objects we spend all day with honours the objects and our domestic lives they help to co-create.

Lastly, perhaps you might say this prayer from Psalm 51, verse 10, as you slowly wipe down or rearrange a corner of your home:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (NRS)

How are you cleaning or rearranging your living spaces to meet the Easter reality? Are you struggling with how to do this in your own home? Please comment below or on social media; I would love to hear from you.

Best wishes as you reflect on your Lenten journey and usher the Risen Christ into your home church.

Kate Crane lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and is currently enduring self-isolation with her spouse, Matthew Townsend (editor of the Anglican Journal). She is a master’s degree student in social anthropology at Dalhousie University and parishioner at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Halifax. She has contributed pieces to The Living Church and other publications.

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