“Create in me a clean heart, O God.” -Psalm 51:10
The words from the psalmist arise unbidden as my arm methodically pushes and pulls the vacuum cleaner along the long hallway floor in the guest wing. Again, as I polish a faucet in one of the guest rooms on the first floor, “…a clean heart, O God.”
Just about a week ago Genesis’ housekeeper, Dulce, lost her elderly father after his steady decline. She had the good fortune to be with him and family from the DR and NY in his last days, in Rhode Island. Our policy at Genesis is to observe the 14-day quarantine whenever traveling outside the “safe” states, so she will have time to be with her grief process. Having experienced a loss in recent months myself, I appreciate the gift of healing that such time allows.
In the meanwhile, 13 guests just departed after a Silent Directed Retreat, another two began retreat last night, and another couple private retreatants arrive this coming week. Ever the versatile team player, Wayne cleaned three bedrooms and bathrooms, preparing them for our current guests. Today I am tackling the remaining rooms. It’s a change of pace from my usual desk-bound role and I welcome it.
I’ve found myself doubling back, up and down the hallways, making un-necessary trips for forgotten blankets, or the small bottles of Genesis-labeled hand sanitizer we leave for each guest; the rhythm and sequence of these tasks are not yet in my muscle memory. It’s been a couple of years since I cleaned the guestrooms; the routine in the kitchen is more familiar. I notice I have to think each step through. The house is empty and I don’t mind my inefficiency.
I am lulled by the pacing of this physical labor, the meditation-in-motion and repetitive gestures of dusting, polishing, washing, folding, emptying the trash and recycling and putting new liner in the bins. Pausing, I can sense the difference after I vacuum a room or a section of hallway. Cobwebs invite my attention to nooks and crannies and I know the industrious spiders will begin weaving again shortly after I leave the area. I feel an upwelling sense of satisfaction and… pleasure? as I wipe neglected baseboards.
I feel my awareness drop down into my body and notice how I relate to each guest room in a new way when it is my responsibility to clean it. My mind is free to reflect on the individuals, Seeds of God, who were just with us and are now back in their homes and communities; I imagine forward to those who will join the Genesis School for Contemplative Living in a couple of weeks, as I make each bed.
The age-old Benedictine wisdom of “Work alone, work together, pray alone, pray together” has been lost in our current-era sense of roles which tie office workers to mostly sedentary tasks. A recent meme corroborates, “Sitting is the new smoking.” The physical work required to keep the community running - peeling vegetables, cleaning toilets, weeding – was rotated among all Benedictine community members, even the Abbott took a turn! I recognize how integral such tasks are to my own health and well-being, how I too-often neglect them because there always seems to be something computer-related pressing in on my time and attention. I experience anew the rhythm of physical labor cleansing the emotional abrasions received from the news cycle and interpersonal conflicts imbedded in daily life and I return to the work awaiting on my desktop – composition of this blog post – with a more grounded and spacious perspective…a clean heart.
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