My family book club read The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris this month. It’s a series of observations and thoughts that came out of the author’s experience of living and worshiping in a Benedictine monestary. Which is interesting, as the author is female – it’s never quite explained why she chose a community of monks rather than a community of nuns, but that’s neither here nor there, I guess.
Unexpectedly, I have been enjoying the book. I’m fairly ignorant about catholicism, so there’s much to be learned. She shifts back and forth between a very personal viewpoint, in which she talks about her own experience of religion, and a much more objective viewpoint where she considers the religion as a social and cultural phenomenon. Her ability to speak objectively is one of the things that has made the book tolerable for me – I generally react badly to preaching of any sort.
The Benedictine lifestyle is an ascetic one, in which your belongings and activities are honed to the essential minimum. This has got me on an organization tear. Like most Americans, I am surrounded by stuff and am rather overwhelmed by most of it. The physical clutter contributes, I think, to a mental clutter. I have been trying to reduce the clutter in small ways, like trying to create paperless filing systems (get bills electronically, save them on disk rather than printing them out, for example). But I talked to K tonight and he’s agreed to go through the whole house with me, and just do a more major purge. I will donate the stuff immediately to charity because without taking the time to catalog and value it, because if I try to do the documentation (for tax purposes) the stuff will sit there for months waiting for me to have time. It’s worth it to me – the tax deduction might be worth as much as a few hundred bucks if we really donate a lot of stuff, but the relief of having the job finished may well be worth that to me. People pay that kind of money to get home organization specialists to come help them with their homes, after all.
Not that I’ll ever be an ascetic, of course, but perhaps it’s time for me to define exactly what I am.