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Cleansing
Lise Adams Sherry
Director or Religious Education
Archived 6/1/2010

I’ve been feeling a little unsettled lately. Maybe it’s because I’m in transition, as most of us are, as we wait for spring to truly come instead of flirting with us one day or afternoon a week. We long for the lightening of our hearts and spirits that the sun and warmer weather bring to us. The opportunity for new things to grow and beginnings of adventures we have yet to even imagine. What is in us spiritually and maybe even biologically that causes this yearning?

Religiously, I was surprised to find, there are several traditions that link this time for new beginnings with deep and thorough house cleaning. The Jewish holiday of Passover or Pesach requires the faithful to completely clean their homes of any leaven products before the holiday. This is in remembrance of their escape from Egypt when they were in such a hurry to leave that they did not have time to wait for their bread to rise. Cleaning one’s home now of any leavened bread also spiritually cleanses one of unnecessary puffiness or arrogance. Orthodox Christians begin their Lenten period with a vigorous time of fasting and repentance in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Along with interior cleaning, they are also encouraged to clean their surroundings to match the changes going on within.

During the times when humans more commonly used coal, wood, and oil to cook food and heat their homes, warm spring days provided the chance to finally air out and clean one’s living space. Some think people cleaned during this time because they were more energized by the lengthening days of light. As a small child I remember my mom regularly went through spring cleaning—a time to get the very deepest layers of dirt and grime out of usually forgotten corners, reorganize cupboards (my favorite part) and to clean all the windows until they sparkled. As I got older this tradition seemed to fade. I’m not sure if it was because we became better housekeepers throughout the rest of the year (probably not), or if it was because she grew further from her own childhood traditions. Perhaps she simply figured in our western world of vacuum cleaners and Lysol it wasn’t as important.

Yet I’m beginning to think we miss something important to our psyches and our spirits if we don’t heed this cyclical need for cleansing and renewal. Most of us would agree, to some degree, that we are affected by, or perhaps affect, the order of our surroundings. I remember a friend in college having a difficult time organizing and motivating himself. Once he finally cleaned up his disastrous living space, everything seemed much easier for him. In our busy lives we go from activity to activity often without thought or awareness. Maybe we need more rituals, even that of housecleaning, to prepare ourselves for something new and exciting. Maybe that would make the in-between-time less fraught. Maybe. Would it hurt to try?

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