07 December 2009

Spiritual Disciplines

The subject of spiritual disciplines has been on my mind lately (got there in a round-about fashion, but more on that later).

Several years ago (a decade or more?), we celebrated the Passover. In my typical Toad-of-Toad-Hall style, I decided if we were going to do this, I would make sure it was done right. So I decided to clean out all the leaven from the house. I started with the obvious: yeast and baking powder. Then the conspicuous loaf of bread sitting there looking smugly at me - okay, tossed, along with hot dog rolls and hamburger buns. But wait. Do those cookies have baking powder? Uh-huh. Okay, so the cookies went. Oh, that cake in the freezer has leavening. Gone. What about those crackers? Yup, they have baking soda. Okay, so they're gone, too. Self-rising flour? Flung into the trash. Okay, all done.

Wait. There are lots of crumbs on the shelves of the pantry. I bet some of them have leavening in them. So, I cleaned the pantry. Done! Except that the kids have dropped bread and cracker crumbs on the dining room floor and, in the course of regular sweeping, some of them got pushed under the baseboards - time to clean the baseboards. And the kidlings sometimes would take crackers (or cookies) into their rooms (no, not with permission) and so we had to clean out the bedrooms. Oh, and we grown-ups occasionally snack in bed while reading before turning out the lights (with permission) - time to deep-clean the master bedroom, too. And crumbs stick to our feet when we walk through the house, so the bathrooms, living room, and school room also needed a deep cleaning. But crumbs tend to nestle down into the carpet and our vacuum wasn't strong enough to get them all out, so we rented a carpet cleaner. Etc., etc., etc.

It seemed that every time I cleaned the leaven from one place, I thought of another where it could be hiding, and another, and another, and another. Hmm …

Jesus continually warned his disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. And I know somewhere in there, Scripture equates leaven with sin. As I worked and worked to clean the leaven from my house, I learned a lot about the insidiousness of sin. I finally understood the Jewish custom of starting Passover with a plea to God to remove whatever leaven was missed in this giant spring cleaning. I've heard that described as a lazy and frivolous cop-out, but I think it's a serious appeal to God's grace, an acknowledgement that we can't ever entirely rid ourselves of our own sin. Only his mercy and power can do that.

The physical discipline of trying to clean all leaven out of the house taught me powerful spiritual lessons that I've never forgotten. And this, I'm beginning to see, is the power of spiritual disciplines. I'd avoided them in the past because I saw them as a way to try to earn God's favor (and I wanted none of that), but it's dawning on my that they can be a source of discipline and spiritual training for my soul.

So, since we celebrated Passover so many years ago, why is it coming up now? Well, I'll tell you. A friend recently mentioned that Advent used to be considered more of a season of preparation to celebrate Christmas and not a season of celebration itself. This resonated in my soul.

Another description I've read is that it's 'a kinder and gentler version of Lent'.

And yet another blogger described it thusly: 'Perhaps the most important thing for me (a baptist girl with liturgical longings) in trying to keep Advent is making a conscious effort to postpone Christmas. I must admit that when I first began doing Advent it was more as a way to prolong Christmas. This shift from "doing" to "keeping" and from "prolonging" to "postponing" has been slow but significant.'

This makes sense, given that the twelve days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and run to January 5, with the celebration of the Epiphany on the 6th.

I've shared some of these insights with my husband and he's intrigued. We're beginning to try to think through what this change of mind will mean for us. So this will be a kind of 'transition Christmas' for us. We're thinking and researching Advent and Christmas based on a more liturgical calendar. We got a late start this year, but will do our best and continue to think about this throughout the year.

I hope to post more about some of the changes we're planning to incorporate this year and some of the spiritual lessons I'm learning.



  1. Lynne - what a great insight about cleaning out the leaven! I never knew the cleaning out process could or should be so complete. I don't even want to think what it would take to clean out my van from crumbs and such. (says a mom with a toddler)

    I hope you enjoy looking to Advent. My own understanding has really grown over the recent years as we've done so. Last year when everything was so crazy with the adoption almost complete at any minute, I found Advent to be such a source of comfort and strength.

    I read somewhere recently a woman talking about how Advent is so much like the end of pregnancy - where we want the baby to come, but certainly not before the time is right. We wait with expectation and excitement, but also busily preparing.

  2. Kerry, I didn't even begin to consider the van - talk about needing God's mercy!

    The whole process was almost overwhelming - the toaster; the oven; under the stove, fridge, and dishwasher; the drawers and cupboards; the diaper bag; my purse; etc. I don't think our house has been so clean since!

    I have George Grant and Greg Wilbur's book Christmas Spirit around this house somewhere. Greg recommended it. I'm finding resources to be a bit scarce. Oh well, it's a process. I'll probably find the book on January 6th! So we're going slowly and having a bit of a pared down Advent this year, but that gives us time to grow in the future. We are hoping to have a Christmas gathering some time during the twelve days.