Monday, October 27, 2008

Snake Soul Sludge

By Sean McDonough, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

My tub, like my mind, sometimes doesn’t work as quickly as it ought. So once a year or so, I need to tackle the dirty, but oddly satisfying, job of getting rid of the sludge that keeps the water from draining. I lay down some newspaper, get down on the floor, remove the massive cover of the drum trap, insert the coiled snake as far into the pipe as I can, and start to twist the snake. After a few minutes, I pull it back up to see what I have caught. The result, if I am lucky, is not pretty. [CAUTION: THE FOLLOWING SENTENCE CONTAINS MATERIAL OF A GRAPHIC NATURE.] If I have snaked successfully, I will pull up a tangled black mass of sludge and hair, like a hunk of muddy wild boar flesh – the bigger and badder the better, because it means more room for the water to flow out. I clean up my tools and myself, replace the cover, and walk away a more contented man.

Alert readers who have read the title of this piece, and have managed to weather the storm of disturbing imagery in the previous paragraph, may sense where this is headed. Dirty bath water is not the only thing we need drained from our lives. Day by day, week by week, we face temptations, insults, resentments, confusion – and if all is going well we slough it off and keep moving on. But as all those little things can begin to accumulate in our soul, we can find it harder to keep the debris moving downstream. “Why do I always get stuck with the worst committee assignments?” “Why do my babies have to scream on the plane when no one else's do?” “I can’t believe my roommate borrowed my iPod again without asking!”

It’s not the big things I am talking about here. Occasionally, we have had to extricate a Playmobil helmet or some such thing from the plumbing, and that requires bringing in the heavy hitters of the pipe cleaning world. But the real problem is the gradual build-up of hair and dirt that slip past the screen and set up their secret and growing fraternity somewhere beyond the drum trap. I suspect that for most of us, the same holds true for our spiritual lives: we might not commit egregious sins that block us up all at once; we just grow ever more sclerotic from trivial grudges and petty distractions.

Snaking your soul sludge could take any number of forms, and my main purpose here is to identify the problem rather than to detail the solutions. You might find deliverance by going on a weekend retreat, or joining a small group, or committing to a new prayer regimen. The key is to realize that even the best-intentioned believer can find his or her spiritual progress blocked by the detritus of everyday life, and to seek by God’s grace to get rid of the blockage.

And if your time of reflection dredges up some things that are a bit unpleasant to look at, don’t be discouraged. Awareness can lead to repentance, and repentance leads to a healthier relationship with God. However you do it, start snaking your soul sludge.

No comments:

Post a Comment