Annual Long Retreat

We are currently experiencing what we call “annual long retreat”, an eight-day period where the sisters maintain silence and a daily balance of prayer, meditation, reflection, spiritual reading and a bit of manual labor.

The extroverts of the world find this idea a challenge, but the introverts (which includes most, though certainly not all, nuns) love it. Besides my prayer and meditation, I usually include some kind of cleaning-out process. My closet (amazing how much can accumulate behind closed doors, even small ones) or dresser drawers are frequent targets, but this year I decided to tackle the rather alarming collection of paper I’ve acquired.

Since I pay the bills for the house, a certain amount of that collection can be chalked up to accounts payable, a perfectly respectable excuse. But all that paper is shipped off to the auditor in January and eventually comes to rest in community archives housed elsewhere.

Accounting’s not really the culprit, and I know it. I’ve managed to keep a lot of “files” way past their useful lives: paperwork from seminary classes I took years back, records from cars that died long ago, insurance notices, some ideas for a book called “The Ninety-Nine Names of God” that will never see the light of publication … in all, about four file drawers full of now-needless paper.

Cleaning out does a lot for me. I feel lighter, for one thing (yep, almost as if I’ve lost weight). It also earns me a humbling experience about surrounding myself with needless “stuff” — a sense that is heightened by realizing how carelessly I think about that “stuff”, whether it’s clothing or papers or miscellaneous doodads that seemed useful when I latched on to them. And the paper can be shredded and turned into fodder for the Ernies (our worm farmers), who will sensibly transform it into luscious compost for us.

I remember my friend who years ago lived in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer. Upon arrival she was given a precious gift that no one living there either owned or needed: a wastebasket. Knowing Americans, they gave her a place to store the inevitable “waste” she would produce.

She learned a lot from her Philippina friends. By the time she left, I believe the wastebasket had become a flowerpot.

May new life bloom from my filing cabinet this week.

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