You can often gauge our family’s level of busy-ness by the state of mess in the kitchen. Dirty dishes in a pile, crumbs on the counter, veggie peels sneaking out of the compost bin which needs to be emptied. Presently, there are dark chocolate shavings underneath the coffee maker (which also needs a good cleaning) because I made truffles over the weekend. A noodle or two escaped from the baked mac n’ cheese I served to guests on Thursday and is stuck under the door of the oven. We are out of clean forks.
This state of things can make me feel sad and stressed sometimes. It really is more helpful (if not more sanitary!) to tidy up each day. On the other hand, the mess is also a sign that the kitchen itself has been busy: creating desserts for a charity auction, baking supper for new friends, making daily breakfasts and lunches for children. This hospitality is holy work. And the more I live, the more I notice that holy work is usually messy work.
Communities and relationships are, by nature, messy. They cause stress because we come face to face with our differences, both small and great. It feels hard to address the places we bump against each other.
Of course naming that relationships are messy isn’t justification for leaving the crumbs on the counter or the noodle under the oven door: we are called to do our part. It is the season of Lent, the time for spring cleaning. Rinse and scrub that coffee pot; sweep under the hard-to-reach spots. But stop short of cursing the mess–in it, we find life.
These rhythms of mess and cleanliness, fulness and simplicity, stress and rest are themselves gifts of our good Creator. God became messy flesh in order to bless these rhythms, making them sacred. Too often we only think of the clean or pure times as “holy.” We do this outside the faith as well, praising seasons of life when we “have it together.” We forget how present God is in the dirt. We neglect that God chooses to show love to us through messy things like meals, children, animals, and land.
I have come to understand that the heart of the Christian faith is meal fellowship. Christ is made known to us in the breaking of the bread, and that means crumbs will fall on counters and carpets and street corners.
As you know, if you read this column, family was a complicated thing for me as a child. I envied my friends who had two parents and who had brothers and sisters. I would daydream about having their life.