It’s not about my stuff (except when it is)

It’s Ash Wednesday.

I’m not going to write my annual essay about how I’m not ready for Lent yet. I didn’t expect to feel prepared or have the energy to perfectly arrange things as I’d like them to be for our family in the liturgical living department this year. Everything is upside down and completely new and different in so many ways. God is constantly surprising me in this season.

I did think of putting all the Lent and Easter things we usually use in a box marked for that purpose, but when we hit the hardest part of packing and there wasn’t room for everything in the short-term boxes that would go with the movers, that Lent/Easter box had to go in the pod for longer term storage. A lot of my books went there, too, and some sheet music I’ve very much wished I had access to right now. Some of the kids’ stuffed animals also had to go in storage, which they have begun referring to as “POD camp.” Not a day goes by that someone in our family doesn’t say, “I really wish ____ wasn’t in the pod, because I need it.”

Things I could tell you about this situation in this moment, if this was one of those blogs:

  • We’re feeling so unencumbered without our family library that from now on, we’re limiting ourselves to five books each and selling the rest to buy really beautiful bookshelves handmade from reclaimed wood that will look attractively sparse in our home! or
  • We are so grateful that we know we need fewer clothes that we are just going to live in an Airstream trailer and travel the country! or
  • We’re radical minimalists now, and we’re going to make a documentary about our decision to set the pod on fire as a statement against our consumerist society because this way is so much better!

or some variation of this.

(Surprise. I’m not going to say any of those things.)

Tradition is worth a lot, and some of our family traditions are bound up with the stuff we use to carry them out. The burlap cloth and the stones in shades of purple and grey that we brought back from Prince Edward Island are usually arranged attractively in the center of our table by now. I usually have our prayer table set up with a purple cloth and some seasonally-appropriate art and a grapevine wreath. These things appear, and that means it’s Lent.

I went by the chapel at the School of Theology last evening on my way out to practice the organ, and the guy in charge of the liturgical environment was putting the finishing touches on the altar space. It’s draped in purple, with some branches arranged simply on one side and a small pile of stones on the other. It’s striking and prayerful, and it drew me right in. It was completely different from how it had looked earlier in the day, and yet it was comfortingly familiar (even though I’d never seen it that way before) in its penitential purpleness.

That’s what we’re doing at home, too, when we print out the same Lent calendar to color that we use every year, or when we get out the same tablecloth or set of candles or icons. We are making space. This is domestic liturgy. The objects that we use to create the space for our prayer and for our family’s spiritual experience at home during this season are part of that prayer, not just accessories to make the house look nice. Seeing them in our home is an invitation for us to shift our thinking a little…to remember that it’s Lent, that we’re supposed to be thinking about sacrifice and prayer and how we can serve each other better.

So I guess it’s kind of about the stuff.

On the other hand, as I’ve frequently said around here, liturgical seasons come whether or not we are ready, and part of the purpose of the season is to remind us that it’s not about us. Praying in rhythm with the church’s liturgical year is what forms us in our identity as part of the Body of Christ. The most important thing here is our intention, not what we use to carry it out.

I recycled the purple flowers and some greens from the bouquet we’ve had on our table all week, trimmed them stuck them in a smaller pitcher, and put them in the center of the table.

My daughter walked in a few minutes later, spotted the reworked flowers, and said, “Wow, it really looks like Lent around here.”

So maybe it’s not about the stuff, after all.

Anyway, I hope you’re having an appropriately penitential day, whatever that looks like for you, and I pray you’ll have the strength to grasp whatever you need to hold onto and the grace to relinquish whatever you should do without in the coming weeks. God be with you!

4 thoughts on “It’s not about my stuff (except when it is)”

  1. What a beautiful post. Also: I never knew quite how materialist I was until I put all my stuff in storage for six months while we were in Uganda. When my mother in law sent us a tiny artificial Christmas tree I almost wept in gratitude.

  2. Thank you for writing this post. ❤ We had a lot of toys in our pod that I quietly donated when no one was looking and that have yet to be missed, more than a year later … But as for our books: when we finally had built-ins installed a few months ago and I unpacked them all, the ones that had been sitting in the closet for that same year, my heart swelled and I felt at peace and at home.

    I guess it is time to take the Nativity down and look for my Lenten purple. 🙂

    1. It’s because you know that books are basically sacramentals––they are a sign of the people who wrote them, in conversation with us now. So having them back is like being reunited with kindred spirits. ❤

      Confession: I hid the little Nativity we were using behind a picture on the side table in the living room because I don't have a "Christmas Things Box" to put it in. I hope I don't forget it when we move in a few months.

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