– By Leah Postman
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing – the reason they can fly.
Mary Oliver “Storage”
A not so long time ago, I was preoccupied with chairs. Kitchen chairs, dining chairs, occasional chairs, lounge chairs. I had recently moved and sold most of the furniture and was now intently focused on filling the new space. I am a shameless and obsessive Craigslister, and I scoured the postings, religiously and at length: bent plywood mid-century modern, 70’s chrome cantilevered wire mesh, classic bentwood with leather seats; several swivel chairs paraded by in quick succession through my living room. I bought and sold and resold. My children made fun of me and my husband groaned. At one point I made a detour into stools and poufs but I quickly course-corrected. (Also — maybe, perhaps — a dining table or two may have made an appearance….)
This all took a lot of time and a lot of effort. I wouldn’t stop until I got it right and it never felt quite right. Perfect is a moving target. Even the freshly arranged furniture hints at a more ideal arrangement. My choice of chairs is now settled, and yet I still find myself sneaking onto Craigslist, just to look. Perfection casts a shadow.
In most ways, in most areas of my life, I have always endeavored to get it right, even without knowing, exactly, what it was. For the longest time, I thought life was about collecting things and displaying them to effect: people, possessions, experiences, beliefs. But more than that, I thought it was about accumulating the right things. The goal, I suppose, was some sort of living museum diorama, where others could come and admire my perfectly correct chairs, literal and otherwise. And — most importantly – all my perfectly correct choices would showcase me as being perfectly correct. I would finally feel right. I would finally be right, as in be acceptable, as in be loved.
A friend shared with me recently her experience with Christians and Christianity. It had little to do with Christ but it had a lot to do with being acceptable. She described feeling preyed upon and judged, pressured to become someone she was not. The church she encountered was about rules and right behaviour. I, too, have experienced this, and I, too, have certainly inflicted this experience upon others. Without love, there is only an endless inventory of defects and deficits, and vigilance to avoid missteps. Without love, the church is just a big building filled with furniture, a museum. I’ve joked before that sometimes I think God is empty space. I don’t know if this is true but I have come to know God as spacious. In Mary Oliver’s deceptively simple poem “Storage” she speaks of renting a storage space for her many things but found as she grew older,
the things I cared
about grew fewer, but were more
important. So one day I undid the lock
and called the trash man. He took
I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted.
God makes room for me and all my stuff while simultaneously clearing away all the clutter. Here, within God’s spaciousness, we are not required to make ourselves anything more than we are. Here we are like the birds and the trees. I wanted to tell my friend something of this but was afraid it would sound like I was trying to convince her of something. I still struggle to convince myself. I still want more chairs!
But my heart is a little more open than it was yesterday. My life is a little freer than last year. Love, like the universe, keeps expanding, is the great room we are all invited to live in.
The poem is from Felicity by Mary Oliver, Penguin 2018