During my first two years in the monastery, one of my routine labora assignments was to clean the chapel weekly. For statues and windows it was a stand-up job on ladders and stepstools. It became a kneel-down job when I got to the baseboards, choir stalls, and kneelers. Through this assignment I began to realize that you don’t really know a place until you have cleaned it, no matter how much time you may spend there.
In our current post-renovation, pre-move phase in Ottilia Hall, professional crews have come in to clean out the major construction dust and debris. But we have followed along afterward with our own dust rags and mops. Last night, Sister Tonette and I took pails of sudsy water and some wash rags up to 3rd floor and spent the evening going room to room carefully tending to baseboards, the insides of cabinets and closets, behind bathroom fixtures, and generally wiping down any trace of dust or stray fingerprint we could find. As we methodically went from room to room, with me on the east side and Sister Tonette on the west, I began to realize that I wasn’t just cleaning, I was learning. In investigating every nook and cranny and corner and crevice of this new space I was getting to know the building in a much more detailed, even visceral, way than from merely looking.
Likewise, we each have our own interior nooks and crannies. The nightly Examination of Conscience is a good way to expose the dust and debris of our hearts and seek cleansing and healing from our merciful Lord. But no matter how much we reflect we can never know ourselves as well as the One who, in the words of Psalm 51, is able to “wash away all my guilt, and from my sin cleanse me.”
In Psalm 139, the Psalmist writes, “Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand…” The Lord, indeed, knows us better than we know ourselves, no matter how much time we may spend in self-examination. Let us be humble and grateful in our dear Lord’s loving presence as we seek His healing, cleansing touch.
“Probe me, God, know my heart; try me know my concerns. See if my way is crooked, then lead me in the ancient paths.” Ps 139:23-24
“Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.” Ps 51:10
Postscript: Tonight we’ll be back at it again, still cleaning – and getting to know – our renewed monastic home.