Home for me when I was a kid was my grandma’s house, and while some of my happiest memories are rooted in that period, life back then was not without its challenges. Grandma, or just ‘Ma’ as we called her, would engage in a campaign at least once a year, sometimes twice, that the rest of us dreaded worse than a trip to the dentist. She dubbed it ‘spring cleaning’, or perhaps ‘fall cleaning’, depending on the season we happened to be in when the mood hit her. Grandpa didn’t see the need to accommodate a seasonal differentiation, so he just referred to the episodes as, “Ma having one of her ‘spells’”. There was no predicting the dates when the storm would break, but when it was time, it was time. She’d get one of those looks on her face, like David might have had when he grabbed his sling and headed off to confront Goliath. The enemy was in sight, and the dirt would mock her no longer. From that point on, nothing in the house was safe, including those of us who lived in it. Everything in sight, and some things that weren’t, got scrubbed, scoured, scrutinized, and sanitized or thrown out. She worked like Jesus Himself was coming, and our whole family’s eternal wellbeing would be determined by the presence or absence of contaminating elements He might find lurking in our house. Though it wouldn’t be coined for another generation or two, the declaration employed by Star Trek’s fictitious ‘Borg’ would have been appropriate for Ma’s cleaning spells, “You will be assimilated,” followed of course by, “Resistance is futile.”
Whoever came up with that anecdote about life’s only certainties being death and taxes didn’t live in our house. Had he been in our family, he would have added the inevitability of Ma’s cleaning spells. We might not know the starting date, or what she’d tear into first, or what level of intensity she’d throw into it, but one thing was certain. It would come, and the implications were sobering. When Ma got ‘the look’, contentment and tranquility were on a death watch, and beyond any power on our part to save them. Our personal routines and preferences would get in her crosshairs at some point, and though we never knew which ones would be targeted for inspection first, it was a foregone conclusion that they would get their turn. Our most benign habits would be called into question, and our patterns of doing things would be the subject of repeated interrogations. Questions that had no possibility of a sensible answer were sometimes thrown at us – questions like, “What am I going to do with you boys?” Spontaneous detailed probes regarding the ways we handled certain items day to day were a constant likelihood. Lectures involving the virtual holiness of soap were familiar accessories to her cleaning process, coupled with meticulous demonstrations underscoring the necessity of actually touching it in order to unleash its power and reap its glorious benefits. My grandma and her cleaning spells constituted a potent instrument of change, but it was not just change for the sake of change. They were changes that made us better.
Next week our church is going to engage in one of those ecclesiastical phenomenons that we call a ‘revival meeting’. Annual revival meetings are a part of Baptist church history, but more than that, they’re a part of our own local church’s history, as well, and a tradition we’ve kept for nearly a hundred years. We always endeavor to make the whole process enjoyable, to energize the folks, and to build an aura of excitement as the event gets closer. Everyone makes an effort to highlight the attractions that will hopefully bring people in, like the speaker’s reputation, special music, good food, and uplifting fellowship. We want ‘renewal’ to be a pleasant experience. I’m not against pleasant stuff, but maybe there’s a different approach worth considering.
When I think about Baptist church revival meetings, I think about my grandma. She didn’t invent revival meetings, but suppose we coopted some of her approach to cleaning spells and applied it to the process. Suppose we approached revival meetings with a purpose and attitude more like hers. Ma didn’t dive into one of her protracted cleaning spells because she liked getting on her hands and knees and scrubbing our floors, or because she found it thrilling to climb on ladders with a bucket of ammonia water to clean windows inside and out. I don’t think she was overjoyed at the prospect of plowing through every cupboard and closet in a search and destroy mission for anything that remotely resembled dirt. She did what she did because we had gotten a little sloppy, and it had begun to show. We had begun to allow unacceptable stuff to accumulate to a point where her direct intervention was needed. She engaged in her ‘spells’ because she was determined to make our simple little frame house as close to a spotless palace as she could make it. She wanted the house and all who lived in it to be the best we could possibly be. Ma had standards.
She attacked our routines, because she knew that what we did each day had impact on the conditions we all had to live in. She wanted the standards that she employed to be a part of our normal lives every day, not just something we did in a big flourish once or twice a year. Ma knew dirt was dangerous, that it was a threat wherever it might be hiding in the house. Dirt was disease. Dirt was demeaning. Dirt challenged and insulted her standards, and stood ready to infect her precious children. Ma hated dirt, and she wanted living clean to be our normal way of life. What if we looked at our church environment that way?
If Ma was in charge of revival meetings, it wouldn’t be playtime. It would be time to roll up our sleeves, go to work, and get the dirt out of the house. She’d probe every nook and cranny, and run search and destroy missions after anything contaminating. She’d see to it that personal habits, routines, and behavioral patterns were scrutinized to see if they were contributing to the standard – or adding to the dirt. She’d put contentment, complacency and tranquility on a death-watch and she’d keep it there till the dirt was gone. When Ma got through at our house, everything was cleaner and working better. The results were unmistakable, and all of us felt proud of who we were. The celebrations and good times came after the cleaning spells, not in place of them.
© 2015 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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