Mystic Mondays August 8, 2016
De-cluttering is my theme this week. In fact, de-cluttering has been a theme of mine for nearly a decade now. I suppose it started after my divorce almost exactly ten years ago now. I can look back and see that it has come in stages—first, a few boxes related to my old life, then a few more, and finally, a complete purge of anything that I didn’t want to drag with me into my new life and evolving identity.
But the the big moment of de-cluttering came three years ago when I watched a St. Vincent’s moving truck drive away with ninety percent of my possessions. I spent the next year housesitting, saving enough money to travel to Italy, Greece and Turkey as I studied and wrote about the shift taking place from institutional religion to our ancient tradition of religious mysticism. I had images of returning from Europe, living out of an RV, and existing on half the income of what I had become used. I felt a new calling—to introduce our communities to this emerging new world and to give permission to let go of the baggage of an old world.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned and after giving ninety percent of my possessions away I have re-accumulated about a quarter of what I had parted with. But the exercise has paid great dividends. Living without a lifetime of household possessions taught me the difference between what I really needed and what was just clutter taking up space in my house, my life, and my soul. I have re-accumulated, but each item has had to pass the test, “Will this lead me closer to my soul’s desires or become a barrier to my soul’s desires?”
I write this today after having had an experience these past two weeks that tells me that de-cluttering is a powerful tool not only in one’s life, but in our organizations, our worshipping communities, and probably even in our economic and political systems.
Two weeks ago the church where I am currently a pastor decided to sponsor a new group and activity. We reside in a region of the country where many people express that they find God and/or experience the sacred in nature. It’s easy to do here. There are three rivers within biking distance that support salmon, steelhead and river rafters all carving their way through a rugged set of mountains that separate central Oregon from the coast.
But the church did something rather clever. They removed the barrier and clutter of church walls, membership, pledges, and even the dastardly perceptions that sometimes come with church-sponsored programs. They simply advertised that this group, Earth Adventurers, is for anyone who wants to gather as part of a community of people dedicated to enjoying and healing the Earth.
Bam! Two weeks later 75 people have signed up and 20 people have come together for two separate activities.
I am convinced that the sudden interest wasn’t that it was just a really good idea. I am convinced that the initial success of it was due to the small team’s ability to craft a description that spoke to our soul’s basic needs without all the trappings and clutter that come with the institutional church. It was the team’s ability to shed ninety percent of the church’s belongings in order to offer something that met the soul’s purest desires—connection, beauty, healing and a window into the Sacred.
At both gatherings I was stunned at how easily we talked and shared. At the second gathering a spontaneous magic happened as we all ended up sharing our faith stories, our spiritual journeys. We had never met before, yet the simple structure of meeting without any other agenda than to connect opened us up in ways that I find often takes weeks, months and years to get within the structure of the church. Vulnerability happens in the church too, but we first must scale the walls of structure, overcome perceived expectations, and navigate through anticipated pious judgments. Earth Adventurers kept it soulfully simple.
I am convinced that this experience was no different than my experience of getting rid of all the clutter, possessions and distractions of my personal life so that I could dedicate my time and energy to my soul’s deepest desires. It used to be that I would say that I would take guitar lessons after I swept the floors, mowed the lawn, had enough money, on and on and on. Now, without a miniature mansion to take care of (read as a 3-bedroom home), I discovered the time and money to take guitar—it was right there under the pile of my life clutter.
I think the early magic of the Earth Adventurers has come as the result of creating a simple lean-to rather than a mansion for a place for people to connect, explore, share, and experience. I find it interesting that our churches would probably auction off their pictures of Jesus if it meant 20 new people would show up after one creative, open appeal to the community. Yet a simple, no frills invitation to connect with no agenda except to enjoy the sacredness of nature and each other suddenly hit a social and spiritual nerve. We often ask in the church, “How do we get people into our building?” I wonder if it is the building that is getting in the way of helping people connect with the Sacred.
Possessions are not inherently good or bad, I believe. The question is not how many possessions we have, but whether our possessions lead us to our soul’s desires or are the clutter that keeping us from our soul’s desires.
Only you know that answer.