Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they DO NOT UNDERSTAND, but the passages that bother me the most are those I DO UNDERSTAND. Mark Twain
What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest? This is what I shall do: I shall build a larger barn.” Now, I suspect most people figure that Jesus was making reference to a barn such as we see on a farm or ranch. Familiar sights? But, I wonder, could we also apply the story to the “barns” that we build in our living spaces?
Ever notice how people (not you, of course) cannot leave a counter bare? Or a closet empty? Or a room, without using it for storage of some kind? Some people do not want to leave “green space” in nature or their lives. We increase storage space instead of disposing of excessive possessions – furniture, clothing, “things.” What is it that compels us to accumulate rather than dispossess? Sometimes it is just easier to plunk it down there and not have to deal with how to pass it on to a needy person. When you hear word of a community yard sale do you wait so long to make a choice of what you could donate that the event passes you by? Of worse, you attend the sale and find some treasures and bargains that call out to you: “I’m yours.” Yes, your few pennies may have supported a worthy cause. But your contribution of items for the sale may have served a dual purpose of supporting the cause AND unburdening your jam-packed closet and some of the clutter in your life.
And, what about the craft or sewing supplies that are gathering dust? You know the ones you got when you had great plans to make things for the gift shop or for Christmas gifts. Here is a chance to give them to people who will make items for the hospital gift shop. Or provide local nursing home residents with an activity to occupy some of the long hours that stretch to their death. Our small acts of dispossession and charity can send ripples far beyond our four walls.
To further expand the meaning of the Gospel story, consider what we store up in the “barns” of our minds. We can “store up the treasure” of holy thoughts, of pleasurable memories of people we treasure. Or, we can store up the memory of unpleasant, negative events or people, of resentments that we have gunny-sacked for years. Or pack our minds full of the things we need to get done before we go to bed or the sun comes up on tomorrow or before rapidly advancing deadlines. Did you forget that Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” – the simple souls, the uncluttered minds, the trustful, hopeful people.
Here is a little trick for when you find yourself depressed or emotionally overwrought. This type of stress is rumbling in the right hemisphere of your brain – the creative, emotional holistic side. What to do? Switch to your matter-of-fact left brain by doing math, writing factual material, working a crossword or Sudoku puzzle; organizing your desk, dresser or closet. The emotional right brain will calm down. [Adapted from Jane Cole-Hamilton, Wellspring Seminars]
However, if you feel time-stressed, over-burdened, burned out, that’s the left hemisphere of your brain pulling rank on you. So switch to your right brain by playing a sport, singing, listening to music or with abandon play a musical instrument; take a leisurely walk, sit on the outdoor swing, breathe in deeply and enjoy nature.
When you enter into your annual retreat (or a day of reflection), start with a prayer that you can settle into the true spirit of “retreat.” “Retreat” does not mean what I thought it did when I had to write spelling sentences in fifth grade. I thought it meant re-treat (do it again or repeat a medical treatment). So, in my paragraph using the weekly spelling words I had the Army re-treating over multiple times (not a bad idea) but then I portrayed them withdrawing from the scene. Talk about running in place!
Retreat can also mean to give ground. We give ground from whatever is keeping us from relaxing in the spirit. Relax – to lax again; like rehab for frozen stiff muscles and joints. We squeeze our mental, spiritual muscles and then let go. We squeeze ourselves to take a good look at what we are becoming, what we may need to get rid of, or pass on to another cause. We want to re-lax even when that may mean hard spiritual work to de-clutter the “stuff” from our mind-heart barns. We want to divest ourselves in order to make more “green space” in the environment of our lives.
As one of our elderly Sisters told me many years ago from her hospital bed: “You just never know when this may be your last retreat.” God said it, too: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”