The past month or so, I’ve really enjoyed bringing in the harvest from my garden and “putting up” homemade canned goods in my pantry closet. Most of what I make is simple: canned tomatoes for use in soups and sauces later this winter; pickled vegetables of various sorts (jalapenos, beets, green beans, etc). I do also make a few “vintage” family products that my mom always canned when I was growing up–things like applesauce, and mincemeat for Christmas cookies. Another one of them we call “chili sauce.” It’s like an old-fashioned condiment that is great to make at the end of the season as it requires a ton of tomatoes, peppers and onions. Those all get chopped up and mixed with brown sugar, vinegar, and lots of spices, and then baked in the oven until they cook down into a rich, sweet-and-savory chutney-like sauce. We always eat it with pork, but it’s good on anything from boiled potatoes to rice or chicken. When we were kids, my siblings and I used to cringe when it came time for Mom to make chili sauce. Its spicy scent permeated the house as it roasted all day, eventually making us smell like cinnamon and cloves and onions. (Which of course we didn’t realize it until we got to school and later, opening our lockers, were knocked upside down by a whiff of chili sauce.) Oh high school. So glad I never have to do that again.
But now that I’m almost twenty years out of high school (!) and have my own garden and home and kitchen in which to make my own chili sauce, I feel comforted by its smell. I enjoy a great sense of accomplishment at raising much of my own food and canning some of my own homemade products. Last month when I was cooking a batch, I was glad to breathe in the familiar fragrance of chili sauce, and even happier that it turned out just right–tasting exactly the way my mom’s does.
There is a real and deep satisfaction in the work of the autumn season: bringing in the harvest; putting up the canned goods; flipping the wardrobes in the closets so the summer dresses are away and the sweaters are once again accessible. Even having my boots shined at the cobbler was part of moving into the fall. Having a home is a blessing for me because there is always something to do. In taking care of my home, my home takes care of me. I really don’t think I would be doing so well during this pandemic if I didn’t have my home and garden to keep me grounded (literally) and occupied.
So I have come to love the changing of the seasons. (Maybe it’s also because I’m slightly OCD….) But I appreciate the rhythmic opportunity to keep my home in order: to buff up the woodwork, wash the windows to let the light in (especially as the days shorten), and make sure I’m not amassing too much stuff here in my humble little home.
This theme of “getting your house in order” spoke to me as I also recently began training as a spiritual director. For our first weekend retreat, we were assigned to read Margaret Guenther’s Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction. I absolutely loved this book. It is a primer on the practice of spiritual direction, which is a special ministry where one helps another listen attentively for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter, Guenther explores “housecleaning” as not only a literal necessity but also a spiritual exercise. Since spiritual direction–similar to what I currently do as a chaplain–is a ministry of hospitality, she emphasizes the importance of “creating an uncluttered, clean, and welcoming space” (p. 11) We must always be ready to receive a guest, which requires us to have our own house in order. She writes, “The first task is one of housecleaning, of creating our own inner order. We must know ourselves well, both our dark corners and our airless places…It is not enough to push our rubbish into the closet and shut the door…No, we must clean our house, and then keep cleaning it so that we have a worthy place when we invite others to rest and refreshment…Spiritually, the house must be kept in order” (p. 11).
I’m grateful for the ability and desire to keep my house in order–for the satisfaction that I get by literally scrubbing down the house from top to bottom once or twice a year. But also for the motivation to keep my spiritual house in order. My own spiritual director from the Monastery of St. Gertrude has blessed me richly with her attentive listening, gentle guidance, and faithful prayers. Had it not been for her wise counsel and affirmation of God’s various callings on my life, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to make difficult but important choices for myself over these past couple years. But she empowered me to keep my house in order–to get rid of things that were taking up valuable space and cluttering my life and spirit. And our work together continues to challenge me to keep cleaning my spiritual house–to keep working at getting rid of all the judgmental thoughts, feelings of resentment, and boxes full of bad memories that can somehow pile up in my attic and basement if I’m not careful.
I hope that someday if I serve as a spiritual director, I can inspire others to keep their physical and spiritual homes in order. Living with spaciousness and order, we provide a place to welcome others, all the while dwelling in it ourselves.