I got a letter from a parishioner this week. I call him Barnabas because he is a great encourager. It is truly a Spirit endowed gift which flows out of him. He has had a long journey from low church Evangelical to St. Andrews and his presence is a rich blessing. Periodically he sends out letters and poems which are full of wisdom and the other day he sent one that got my head spinning. I want to use it for the reflection today.
In a nutshell, he was sharing that someone was simplifying their life by getting rid of 2,014 things this year. One of the banes of middle class, consumerist life styles is the waste of resources for the purpose of accumulation. I think many of us have clothes hanging in closets or in drawers which we have not worn in years (maybe never), not to mention other stuff and attics....
My friend had a different twist, he spoke of the ideas and thoughts populating his head which were useless 'garbage' (my word) cluttering up his spiritual life. I thought this was brilliant.
The Desert Fathers made it a continual practice to guard their hearts. It is a worthwhile practice, even if it seems we make little progress. Bad thoughts and bad beliefs create problems in our life. Stress is increased by the expectations which we place on ourselves or others. How many times do I damage my relationships, especially with my closest loved ones, because there is a thought in my head that is stupid? I get all worked up and when (if) I pause to investigate why it is often because I have embraced a wrong value.
Jesus needs to be Lord of my head, heart and belly (thoughts, will, desires). If I am in tune with Him then I will be more useful to Him, which means more exorcisms, more healings, more proclamation of the Kingdom (Good News) and more truth/knowledge/understanding (teaching) will flow through me... A cluttered mind and heart, cluttered with unhelpful, ungodly things really diminishes me as a person, which negatively impacts everyone I meet.
It is easy to be lazy and just go with the flow. The problem is our natural inclinations are not always healthy or holy. The problem is our environment is not always wholesome. The problem is the flow is not always in the right direction. The creators of our cultural values and ideas are not trustworthy. Song lyrics and movies are not always the work of people who are deeply prayerful, grounded and saintly. We are bombarded with values which, upon a closer look are often immoral, selfish and destructive.
So what to do? It is senseless to try to "not think about something"--you just end up thinking about it more. The practice of refocusing, however, leaves less room for bad thought and cluttered mind/heart/soul. We need help, in the end sanctification is a gift of the Spirit, but it is also the case that we are called to repentance and discipline. We have to swim against the stream (world, devil and flesh) and battle our temptations. The god news is habits do become second nature.
At home we sing a song with our little guy "clean up, clean up, everybody, every where, clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!" If it is important for your room to clean up how much more your mind and heart and desires?