I spent much of the Lenten season with a paint brush in my hand. Do paint smudges count as ashes? Sometimes the old way needs to be renovated, and renovations usually involve some level of chaos. A sense of order and rhythm to one’s days are lost, and it seems no corner of the house escapes the mess. Dust seeps into every crevice and pre-existing cobwebs are highlighted in epic proportions. Strange men are everywhere – carpentering, plumbing, electricianing – and one tries to make sure to have one’s “delicates” put away and out of sight.
Renovations almost always involve more than the initial plan, and renovating in a stone house that is 150 years old always entails more than what you set out to do. Worn and tired things in the upstairs that beg for alteration lead to deep-seated change in the cellar. Antiquated cast pipes need to go. Electrical panels require updates. Well water that is notorious for leaving rust stains needs filtration. I just want to pick out paint colours with poetic names and play with the creative details of the project, but renovations are more than fun and games. And then too, there is a cost.
As the plumbing in our basement was ripped out and reworked, I thought about how our soul interior can undergo renovations – sometimes by choice, often not. This house was built before the advent of indoor plumbing; I’m grateful that someone before us went to the work of installing it when it became available. I like indoor plumbing. I also have a penchant for things old. However, for me to hang on to those old cast iron pipes in the name of resisting change or as resistance to reworking a system would have been counterproductive to the house’s health as a whole. We all have habits of behaviour and systems of beliefs that we have ingrained in us from our families of origin, from the culture around us, from our churches, from our schools, and even from each other. This can be a solid foundation on which to build a thoughtful life. But if our habits of behaviour are unkind or our systems of belief have us excluding anyone, I think we do well to head to the cellar to take a deeper look. Maybe our habits require the hard work of rewiring. Maybe our systems of belief have become brittle and lifeless. Maybe we need to renovate.
I approached the house renos with an attitude of needing to buck up and get through it so that I could get back to the rhythms of normal living. When I sat with my spiritual director and said as much, she suggested that living and working in the renovation was actually what my life was during that time. It was not a blip in my life, it was my life. This was my Lenten journey. I suppose on some level it was a time to get through, to keep moving forward through it. But on another level, that time too was rich with life and growth when I paused to take notice. I almost missed it.
God comes to you disguised as your life. ~ Paula D’Arcy
There is always room for a creative approach when renovating, but there is almost always dust and disorder in the process. Some old things can be breathed with new life, but some old things actually have to go. The renovation is followed with cleaning and more cleaning, with reorganization, and with figuring out a system in this new order of things. It can all seem a bit awkward and unhomey. But then too, there are the rewards – the freshness and the feeling of a better fit, the fun of seeing an idea to fruition and the fluidity of better used space. It seems the invitation always stands to expand our interior. If we accept, there’s bound to be dust, chaos, and cost, but if we ignore it we may become as brittle and unyielding as old, cast pipes.