I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Pat Butler’s reflection, Thirsty Walls.
As veteran homeowners know, the work never ends. Nor does spiritual work. And as this novice homeowner discovered, one can inform the other in a monastic practice of restoration: renovations!
Wall prep seemed to go on forever as I peeled wallpaper, cleaned and scrubbed glue, repaired cracks and spackled dings, sanded, preparing the walls to receive paint. I prayed through the work—for help, strength, knowledge, protection—in this new monastic cell, with a new spiritual discipline.
I smoothed hardened drips of paint that had run their course, ending their history as mine began, taking possession of this house. The work stretched on, one tedious wall after another, and my thorny relationship with the walls grew. It seemed the wallpaper glue would never dissolve, despite repeated soakings and a multitude of products. I tossed sacrificial offerings into the dumpster each day: sponges, sandpaper, rubber gloves, broken fingernails, and cleaning products.
Disruptions stalled the work: injuries, travel, lack of finances. Would it ever end? Were there short cuts? I searched You Tube, googled products, consulted with other homeowners, and made daily pilgrimages to the home improvement stores.
Weeks turned into months. By month two, I scrubbed with a lament from the psalms: How long O Lord!? There came a swift response:
How long to you think restoration takes?
A glimpse of God’s heart for the careful, painstaking work of restoration sobered me. I scrubbed on; each day a new day of reckoning. What else would the walls say?
Go the distance. Do it right.
I studied more, consulted more, reworked the budget, learned to wait for help, finances, or a pulled muscle to heal.
Old photos in cracked frames, gently removed from the walls, confounded me at the happiness portrayed but left behind. Were these walls abandoned, like the photos? Why?
Tell me a story, walls.
Erase the past; better: redeem it. Whose walls are these now?
I learned to caress the walls, feeling for imperfections invisible to the eye, exposed to fingertips, inevitably revealed if paint went up prematurely. Daily I inspected, groomed, a monkey mother with her infants. I began to fall in love with the walls as part of my new home, supporting, protecting, demarcating space.
Eventually, each wall yielded up a beautifully smooth surface, ready to receive paint. A final inspection for flaws, one final consultation with helpers, and a photo to record the process. I gathered paint chips with names like Plum Dandy, Ionic Ivory and Obstinate Orange. Selecting, painting samples, making choices, commitments. Praying over the walls, writing Scriptures, blessings and prayers on them—and then—color! One wall at a time.
Still the walls spoke.
Forgive the laziness, neglect, shortcuts, mistakes, lack of care or craftsmanship, which has created so much work for me.
Holy Week: another friend came to help. I’m thankful for companions on the journey. They weren’t always available, and I learned to shoulder more responsibility. A spiritual discipline is practiced by the individual, even in community. And some spiritual journeys are made alone, as Christ learned in Gethsemane. Ultimately, no one else could do my job. No one else could walk my walk. No one could or would love or prep these walls quite like me.
A thankless job I grew to thank God for, because I have a home, unlike so many. I want these walls to be ready to receive anyone who comes. And I want to hear all the words the walls want to speak, if I give them the time.
Good Friday: at the end of our week, exhausted, backs aching, we stopped for lunch. I made a power meal to keep our energy up, but after eating, we slumped in our chairs more likely to nap than press on.
“Let’s move before we fall asleep!”
I jumped up—consecration to the task!—asking God for renewed strength.
Two coats of primer later, I was finally splashing on color in my bedroom: Cornflower Blue. I bent over, trying for the third time to reach a hard corner. The first coat was soaking in faster than I could paint, leaving a blotchy patchwork behind me. “These walls are thirsty!” I sighed.
The very verse I had read that morning! Fully awake now, I straightened. Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening . . .
As the walls soaked up the paint, my mind soaked up images of a crucified Christ, dying: what were his thoughts? Of physical thirst, no doubt. But spiritual thirst as well? Thirsting to go home, for an end to suffering, for his Father, thirsting to obey, to fulfill his call.
Thirsting for his creation, for each one of us. Thirsting to make the rough places smooth and fill gaps, to remove what is stubbornly glued to us. To redeem histories, and add color. To prepare a place for us, and bring us home.
I yearned for this thirst. I prayed for it, as I continued with Cornflower Blue, preparing an earthbound place, sacred space for myself and others. No short cuts.
One could say I’m simply renovating a house, but that’s the external story; the internal one speaks of taking ownership, restoring, preparing a place for others. And God will use both stories for his redemptive purposes.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Pat Butler is a monk in the subtropics of Florida, currently practicing spiritual disciplines of first-time home buying, sunset gazing, and beach combing. Artist, poet and writer, Pat has authored three chapbooks through Finishing Line Press, and enjoys family, travel, French culture, and black jellybeans.
Just beautiful, Pat. I am not good at seeing the holy in the ordinary tasks like this. Your words help me to see. Thank you.