Friday, February 2, 2018


One of the first things I noticed when I could walk around again and really see things going on in my house, after living through a fight with some unknown virus that has felled even the healthiest of those living in bayou country (and further afield), was a large patch of black mildew or mold by the back door. To a compulsive cleaner, it appeared to be the accumulation of all that had been sickness and disorder, was germ-laden and anxiety-producing — this ugly, be-speckled black thing. To those who’ve never been besieged with this malady of compulsive cleaning, it was nothing but a discoloration due to moisture and would or would not disappear with a little mopping.

Then I looked out the window and saw the mound of leaves on the patio that I normally sweep away every day and which hadn’t been swept in a week. I glimpsed the bedraggled tendrils of ginger plants throughout the yard, noting that the cold spells had even killed the precious aloe plants that had lived through six or seven winters. Indoors and outdoors,  disorder was overtaking my habitat! 

Picture, if you will, a cartoon featuring Aladdin and his magic rug flying through the sky and alongside him, a woman on a similar rug vacuuming the rug as they move along on magic carpets. The man is saying to her, “Can’t you just relax a little?” Aside from the fact that the woman has long hair that still has color and she looks as though she’s enjoying herself, she could be me indulging in obsessive cleaning activity while soaring through the heavens.

So, January has passed but not the chance to take spiritual inventory again — looking at unfortunate habits like obsessive cleaning, self-interested worry, fuss, fuss (as I often described my Grandmother Nell), considering what Evelyn Underhill calls “the delightful luxury of spiritual grousing…those meditations on our own unworthiness and unfortunate temperaments (like obsessive cleaning dysfunction) and so on which we sometimes mistake for humility…” In so many words, she seemed to be saying: “So what if you don’t like black puddles and spend time scouring? You could drop all that concentration on imperfections in floors, ceilings, walls — actually of character — and give your heart and mind up to delighting in the beauty of God; e.g. the pink flowers of the enduring camellia bush beside the coulee that is blossoming despite any ministrations on your part.” I went outside and cut two blossoms from the intrepid bush, placed them in a vase in the dusty living room, and sat down to contemplate reordering spiritual priorities.

Underhill referred people in this phase of inventorying a life to St. Paul, whom she said had at least as much to put up with as most of us — uncertain health which she considered a “bad drag” on a public career; a physique not strong enough for his energetic soul, “an awkward temperament” (maybe he had a compulsive cleaning habit?)… She said St. Paul had his moments, but he wrote his most joyous epistle in Philippians while in prison, telling his followers that the Fruit of the Spirit is Joy and the rest counts as dung — I reckon like that meaningless black glob at the back door.

Well, that’s what I read this morning after seeing the dark patch at the back door when I tried not to resume my obsessive cleaning self. I went into the kitchen and opened a new bottle of cleaning vinegar, uncapped it, poured a gracious plenty of it on the offensive spot, and walked away, not yielding to the desire to scrub away at my scruples’ behest, and returning to the business of recovery.

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