We are well on the way of clearing out our house and have tried to follow tight rules about what we might store with my folks in Vancouver, what we can part with either by sale, or by recycling/throwing away, and what we should bring.
Easier said than done.
In the last week I have done a large (200 plus people in the service) funeral where the fellow had collected a lot of ‘stuff’ in his garage. His wife and and family now have to sort through it all and determine what stays and what goes. I end my day today having visited a lovely 90 something woman who lives like she is 30 something. She has broken her hip and is having a difficult time in the hospital. She has, years ago, made all sorts of arrangements for her own care and what will happen to all of her possessions if she should become too frail. Each of these people make me think about the importance we hold to our ‘stuff’.
Over time, I think that the pull of sentimentality to items has decreased for me, as I now have more of a relationship with the people, than with the item that they may have given me in the past. I speak directly about some of the things that I collected whilst I was in the Solomon Islands as a Deacon in training. There is deep significance to all of them, but mostly now it is the people that I have stayed in touch with over the many years that brings a smile to my face. However, how many other clergy have a pectoral cross made of sea turtle shell and dolphin teeth?! You see how difficult it is to give things up.
There is another dynamic to having lots of stuff to get rid of, and I question myself, “why did I ever need this in the first place?” This question becomes more focused as I prepare for the Harvest Thanksgiving service in the parishes and at home. The first reading will be from Deuteronomy and is a reminder to give God the thanks all the time, not just when times are bad, or when times are good. I read myself into this passage and think of the house I live in and the stuff that we as a family have accumulated over the years. Yes, there are some things that distract me from God, like a crow that is easy distracted by the small shiny trinkets that it can find on its journey. For me the caution is never to forget God, and that even when it seems tough going, God is there. When life is good, God is still there, and we need to thank him too.
One of the things that I am determined to take with me are my small black sketchbooks that span many years. They document my life and my interests and spiritual journey. Store, sell, bring…the piles get larger and larger. I am confident that I will collect many more ‘things’ on a new stage in life and ministry. What I am really looking forward to is the collection of more lifelong friends in Freiburg and beyond. Just like the people I have loved in my parishes before, they have travelled with me from place to place, (not in a box on a shelf!) in my prayers.