Making Space

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about one aspect of the spiritual life that gets very little attention. It affects several dimensions of our everyday work, but is rarely at the forefront of our consciousness.

Storage space.

There is the practical sense of storage: where do we put the Sunday School supplies? Can we mix them with the supplies for The House? Why does the Buddhist group have so many bins? Where are the wine glasses? And why are we storing the fire pit in padremambo’s office?

A lack of storage space produces an immense amount of anxiety. We can’t always find things. It gets sloppy. And it becomes very hard to move around in the rector’s office.

There are plenty of ways we can begin to solve the problem of storage.

The first, is to get rid of lots of stuff. We don’t need the old cables and computers and magazines and the chemicals now underneath the stairs next to the kitchen. I think I could probably rid myself of a few of my books, even though they are like old friends. Get rid of stuff – let someone else have it. Then perhaps we’ll have more room for storage.

Sometimes things are just messy. So then we need good bins. Having clear containers keeps things separated, allowing us to discern what we have and what we don’t, helping us reduce the need to buy more stuff. Then we open up space for more storage. And we might find that we have a bit more room to move around in.

Sometimes we just need to label the storage space we already have. This allows us some clarity, giving us a bit more time to find what we really need.

If this all seems a bit too practical for the spiritually minded, let me clarify: our spiritual life is often about how we store things: do we place our frustrations upon other people? Are we carrying around too much stuff? Do we find that our lives are a bit too messy? Or do we just need some labels?

Now – I’m not advocating that we should not have some mess: after all, if we are a growing church, we’re going to have to rethink storage. Just being forced to think about “storage” is itself a sign that the spirit is inviting us to change. Being able to say, “I can live with a little mess” is as important as saying “this is such a mess that we’d better do something before it gets more messy.” Either way is fine. The first step might merely mean knowing what we’re storing, where we’re putting it, and is it what is best for us.

We’re thinking a lot about storage because we’re growing. It’s a bit painful – and our space here at church is going to change. But its a good change, one that demonstrates that the spirit is working here.

But what kind of stuff do you have? Where are you storing it? On your bodies? In your daily drink? In your restlessness? Can the church help you get rid of it? Or just do you need permission to say, “hey – its ok. you don’t need to keep it. Just throw it away. Give it up” or pray that “I need some more storage space. Perhaps the spirit can help me make some more room.”

I believe it can. It does, however, take attentiveness to just see the mess, and how we’ve got things in the wrong bins, and that we could consolidate a bit or just take some things over to good will.

I’ve often seen that people who keep taking on other people’s burdens have a hard time regulating what they eat; instead of caring for their own bodies, they are running around for other people. And while they destroy their own bodies, nobody really gets any better. Their burdens become the physical weight that they carry. They end up storing other people’s illnesses in their own bodies.

The church can be a place where people unload what they’ve “stored.” Admittedly, I know of plenty of people who when they are feeling burdened the last place they want to be is church. I can understand it – if church is a place of guilt and work rather than of rest and joy, why should anyone bother? Perhaps the church has to sometimes rethink how it stores the love of its people.

In the early church, Christ was considered a “manager of the mind.” He was the storage manager. He was the one who found places to put stuff. Taking sorrows, emptying them, placing them in places where they wouldn’t get too messy, ensuring there would be more space for us to move around in.

His promise was that there would always be enough room.

Moving the Furniture

What does our furniture say about us?

I’ve got a garage full of furniture that my brother and I inherited after my parents deceased. In the rectory is furniture that has been donated or loaned to me over the last ten years. It doesn’t all match, but after a while it becomes more familiar. Perhaps my furniture says I have different sorts of s(h)elves.

Or that I’m just too lazy to throw any of it away.

The furniture we love the most is that which lasts. We associate memories with furniture thats been around a long time. Such timeless furniture is also the most expensive, and sometimes requires the care of talented artisans. It is even more ecologically responsible.

Most of us have probably bought furniture that is beautiful but doesn’t last very long, like at Ikea – good enough, of course. And I remember in college taking some cinderblocks and boards and thinking I had some very elegant bookshelves.

Of course, there are times when when we have to move furniture around. Although moving furniture is exhausting, it can completely alter the sense of a room. Moving a desk, a trash can, a bed can change the way we work. I have a garbage basket next to the mail box so I can throw away bills I don’t want to receive. I have my desk next to my library. I have a little island in the middle of the kitchen. Furniture in the right place changes the way we move and think. Puting a TV in the bedroom makes it our bedroom companion. Putting one in the dining room does the same. Personally, I think it’s best to have only one, and put it in the den. Not that I’m judging others who do things differently.

A little more than a year ago we moved the furniture in the church. We did this in part because the nature of the spirit is one that should bring people closer together and see the image of God in people who are different: old, young, black, white, male, female, bearded, and limping. To name a few. Having to see each other makes us aware of the many dimensions God is reflected.

There is a style of having furniture called “feng shui.” I’m not a proponent of this style of arranging furniture, but it does point to the fact that arranging furniture is important, and it reflects a sense of our own humanity and sense of the sacred.

There is a small irruption to thinking about furniture too much, and that is because our Israelite forebears were very much pilgrims. Perhaps this means we are not to be so concerned with furniture: we’re reminded that God is not an idol – a piece of furniture – but actually works in our lives when we have arranged spaces for Him to express His life.

Have you ever been in a place that is too crowded? A closet, a room with just too much furniture? A space that doesn’t allow for movement? The word “salvation” comes from a concept of opening up space: and perhaps this is what we are trying to do now: move the furniture so that we have space. Space to love, space to play, space to touch the God that seeks to move in our lives.

So when you see the furniture moved in our sacred space, ponder what it feels like. And perhaps it is useful to consider what your space says about who you are, what you value, and how you work. If you’re stuck in your mind, in your work, or in your life, perhaps the simple answer is to move some furniture around and see what happens.

Which is exactly what we’re trying to do here. Just see what happens. Because that is what the church is for: making things happen.