This morning, as I was preparing my room to be cleaned by the Walsh Hall cleaning staff, I thought of our cleaning service last year, which made us, I'm sure, the only communal volunteer program in the history of ever who employed help. It was embarrassing. I felt like a fraud each time an FJV would reminisce about the challenges of "Simple Living," but we suffered through it, while murmuring vague sympathetic noises. ("mmm yess hmmm oh yes yes oh yes such a good challenge. yeah oh uh yeah...we use a grocery delivery service?") We self-deprecatingly called it "Princess Service," shrugged helplessly, and poured ourselves another glass of bodega wine to drown our gnawing guilt over being privileged and guilt about our guilt about our ingratitude for our privilege.
The maid marines left our wood floors and our irreparably grody carpet spotless. They tucked in our beds and cleaned our showers (kind of). But they never cleaned (as I'm sure it wasn't their job) the terrifying cabinet underneath the sink, or the mice droppings that littered the floor of our pantry. They never vacuumed the horror movie wasteland underneath the couch cushions, nor did they touch the mind-numbingly dusty basement. Like I said, not their problem.
I remember one day, in a therapeutic cleaning frenzy, Joe had cleaned out all the kitchen cabinets, scrubbed them down, and organized them. They were spotless. This, I thought, is exactly the sort of cleaning this place does need. We're all adults capable of making up our beds and scrubbing our own toilets, it's this deep clean that this house needs. And once it's done, it's so much easier to maintain. Why is it so terrifying to do?
It's so easy to get caught up in my own system of how grace and sin work. In part, this is due to the fact that a great deal of (necessary) time is taken to learn how to see our own sins. Which is silly, isn't it? It seems that sin dogs my footsteps; I can hardly escape my incessant proclivity towards bad behavior. But the flagrantly terrible sins are not the really vicious ones. It's the deep, hidden, underlying systems of sin in my heart that manifest themselves in slight quivers of selfishness that take attentiveness to identify.
But once identified, what then? Once we have discovered our sin, now what? If we live in a constant state of scrubbing, it seems to me that something is lacking. Awareness of sin, without grace, becomes simply a psychotic paranoia.
We pray: Lord, help me to know my sins.
And we pry underneath the surface to clean underneath the cabinets, scrub below the sink. It is this cleaning that will finally vacuum up all the hidden crumbs. We will make the kitchen finally clean.
Once clean, each spot and speck becomes more obvious, each displaced and blemishing molecule will irk us. And we must, of course, scrub, sweep, and mop them up before the dirt accumulates again.
But the cleanliness that washes us, that cleans us is not a once-for-all, but a once-and-always. It was there before the dirt came, it was there, even in the midst of the mess, and it awaits us, unfailingly. Grace is not the climax, denouement, or reward. Grace is not the achievement of the hero of the story. Grace infiltrates the dirt. She preceded it, no dirt ever came to be before grace was. And she is staunchly unfailingly present, even there.