Stuff, Stuff, Stuff

by Maureen Denis

Give thanks with us as we settle into our new home which is just across the yard, literally, from our old one. The word used by us and most of our friends about this house is “light.” “It is so filled with light.”

They mean natural light, but I hope that some detect another Light which we pray welcomes all who come to us.

In connection with our moving, and also with the fact that the word from the local directors’ meetings in Combermere last year was “poverty,” “culling” has been our word for the past nine months.

It is a seemingly simple word, a movement we have been living here in Whitehorse. And it has many ramifications, both personal and communal.

A phrase I have often said, muttered, shouted during these nine months is, “and I’ve taken a promise of poverty!”

Often during this time, I have felt like I was being buried beneath stuff. At times it even seemed hopeless and endless. How does this accumulation happen? Often it’s one little piece of paper, one small or large item at a time.

We may be unique among the mission houses of Madonna House. At 63, ours is the oldest one—lots of time to accumulate—and also, it has consisted of four buildings—each with its own stuff.

How to carry out such a work when the three of us staff have three different perspectives on poverty? Poverty, it seems to me, is both personal and communal. We each have our individual spaces (interior and exterior) to cull, and together we have a communal space to care for.

And that communal space reflects who we are to those who come to us. We want our house to be simple yet welcoming, a space for people to breathe in, to just “be” in, the kind of space that is so hard to find in the frenzied world all around us.

With this vision in our hearts, we three launched into the stuff. We were united on wanting to do the job, and in many ways our different perspectives complemented each other. We spanned the gamut from wanting to pare down to the barest minimal to wanting to save certain items “just in case.”

We also wanted to be good stewards of what had been handed down or entrusted to us. We agonized over dispossessing ourselves of so much which seemed to be a part of our heritage, that is, the history of our house.

There were times of needing to talk it out, of listening to the heart of the other about a particular item, of hearing the pain of dispossession. Sometimes, it was a case of bowing to the grace of state of the director.

And obviously, along with the actual culling which called for dispossession came the call to ingenuity in deciding how best to dispose of what we were culling.

For one thing, since we have gone from four buildings to three, we now had extra furniture.

Our Lady came to the rescue on many occasions. For example she made us aware of a beautiful group of East Indians, newcomers to Whitehorse who needed to furnish their homes on very limited budgets. It was good to be able to help them.

One of the three of us, Beth Ryan, became a genius in finding ways of moving on the many books we culled from the library. The second one, Dawn Kobewka, was heroic in going through the workshop, moving on tools and machinery to those who needed and appreciated what they were receiving.

Our friends helped, too. One of them saw the mountain of paper we were attempting to shred by ourselves and called in a shredding company to do the job for us.

The Knights of Columbus with their annual giant garage sale received an abundance from us. Even after the event, as our culling continued, they graciously agreed to receive and store many bins of items for next spring’s sale.

A new temporary shelter, opening for only a few months to bridge a gap, gratefully received our donation of leather arm chairs, bedding, coffee pots, CDs, and DVDs.

Although we often found ourselves frustrated with the mountain of stuff we were attempting to move and sometimes became impatient with each other, God was gentle with us in the stripping process.

As we culled and challenged ourselves personally and communally, I found myself facing some interior challenges regarding how I live or do not live this beautiful Madonna House vocation of ours.

With this challenge, I find there is an interior movement, calling, pushing me toward the starkness and beauty of the poustinia. It seems to be a dance the Holy Spirit is leading us in as we embrace the call to be pilgrims who travel in poverty to find security only in Christ.