I cleaned my chicken coop this weekend. When I said those words to a colleague a few years ago, she looked at me and said, “I can’t picture you messy.” Now, of course, she was used to seeing me in a business suit playing lawyer all day, and she’d never been to my home on chicken coop cleaning day. But that weekend and this past weekend, I was messy, very messy – covered head to toe in dust, pine shavings and, you guessed it, chicken s**t. But believe it or not, even cleaning a chicken coop can be an exercise in spirituality, chicken s**t notwithstanding. Let’s call it “messy spirituality.”
Life is messy. Kids are messy; pets are messy; adults are messy and relationships are messy. We've all seen things that made us want to gouge our eyes out, heard things that made us stick our fingers in our ears and sing “LA LA LA LA” as loud as we can, smelled things that gave new meaning to the “bowels of the earth,” and experienced things that were never explained in life’s instruction manual. Life is messy, but we deal with it. And that’s where spirituality comes in.
As I've said before, I define spirituality as “connectedness”: connectedness with each other; connectedness with our world and all that’s in it; and, for those who believe, connectedness with God. Spirituality gives us a sense of responsibility or stewardship for something or someone outside of ourselves. Spirituality is what makes us get out of a warm, cozy bed at three in the morning to comfort a febrile child who just puked her Spaghetti-O dinner all over her bed and stuffed animals, meatballs and all. Spirituality helps us remain charitable to the homeless person who’s gone longer than recommended without a bath. Spirituality keeps us at the bedside of a dying friend when every fiber of our being wants to run away and hide. Without spirituality, every man would be an island, John Donne notwithstanding. But we’re not, we’re all connected. We’re all spiritual.
Spirituality isn't reserved for the neat and tidy places of our lives. It doesn't hang in the closet with our fancy clothes waiting to be trotted out on Sundays. No, spirituality is probably at its best in the messiest parts of our lives. That’s when connections really matter. That’s when we need others most; that’s when we’re most needed. It’s a matter of recognizing the spirituality of our messiness and in our messiness. It’s a matter of bringing our messiness to the messiness of others so we can be messy together, so we can understand that we’re not alone in our messiness. So we can help each other through it and maybe help clean each other up. That's exactly what God asks us to do. He asks us to help him clean up this world and all in it, so we can enjoy his creation as he intended us to.
I can’t say that I was looking for a spiritual exercise when I set out to clean my chicken coop. But somewhere in the scooping, scrubbing and spraying I felt a sense of purpose and, ultimately, accomplishment. Even chickens, who generously provide me with the best eggs I've ever eaten, deserve to be clean, comfortable and healthy. Yes, they’re messy, like a lot of people I know, but they need my respect and care, like a lot of people I know. I’m blessed to know a lot of messy people and grateful that they've shared their messiness with me. They help me help understand that I’m not alone in my messiness. We're messy together, and we help clean each other up. I believe that God introduced me to these people for a reason, and I feel a special connection with each one of them. Our interactions are exercises in spirituality, albeit, messy spirituality.
To learn more about "messy spirituality," I recommend the book, Messy Spirituality, by Michael Yaconelli.