I have a box in the basement utility room. It’s next to the washing machine, and it’s the place for stuff I just don’t need any more. When I checked the box this weekend, there were shoes, old gloves, a shirt, three books, a toy car, a ping-pong paddle, an insulated coffee cup. When the box gets full – about once every three weeks or so – I take it to a thrift store down the street. Add it up, and I’m giving away 16 or 17 boxes of stuff. Enough to fill up a minivan floor to ceiling. Every single year. And I’m not keeping up. At least twice a year, I do a major cleaning – move out old pieces of furniture, a rug, a pile of books, dead plants, broken tools, a television or a microwave.
I’ve been challenged to consider the temptation of the material, a temptation to collect and store and value, a temptation to have and to hold that can keep me from growing closer to Christ. Augustine likens these passions for the material to a serpent we must destroy. Teresa claims that our soul – having experienced spiritual reality – is no longer able to find pleasure in anything of the earth. De Caussade says that to delight in God, “we must strip ourselves naked, renounce all desire for created things.”
And I know that they’re right. But I fear they go too far, suggesting as they do that there is something wrong with the material, that there is something wrong with human passion for created things.
I have too much. In order to live a life with room for God, I must intentionally cast off what otherwise obstructs. But the truth is that there is also much value in the material: food for the stomach, a roof for the rain, a window, a cup of hot coffee, a book, a fire, a friend. For this reason, I’m grateful to C.S. Lewis’s noticing that “the attempt is not to escape . . . . It is more modest: to reawake . . . awareness.”
I fear they go too far, suggesting as they do that there is something wrong with the material