I'm one of those women who normally carries a large shoulder bag around with her wherever she goes. In my case it absolutely has to be a bag with various pouches and pockets: I don't want to spend time rootling fruitlessly through the pile of essentials which, obeying gravity's laws, have all sunk, higgledy-piggledy, to the bottom of the bag as soon as I hoist it onto my shoulder.
My current bag is a dream, as it has several of these pockets and pouches, in which live my phone, keys, pens, Oyster card and various other things. Even so, this still leaves a variety of items in its main body: purse, umbrella, spare tissues, diary, comb, shopping bag and sundry other items, many of them - like the umbrella - carried "just in case". Tardis-like, my bag obligingly expands, providing additional space for the occasional book or small item of shopping, and a resting place for stray receipts, old church newsletters and tattered flyers which lie forgotten, burrowing into seams and folds, only emerging whenever I need to rootle around for something else which has gone into hiding.
Occasionally, a work or formal event requires me to decant only a few essential items from my usual bag into a much smaller one. The lightness and lack of bulk feel strange and somewhat unnerving - there's security in my normal load, even though so much of it is indeed "just in case", rather than absolutely necessary. In my bag, as in my life, I realise that the "one thing necessary" must always fight for space and centrality, and is often obscured and weighed down by unnecessary clutter.
The other day, shortly after a decant-refill exercise, and its concomitant rootling and finding, sifting and re-arranging, I came across these words from St John of the Cross, smiled and thought wryly of my bag, with all its pockets and hidden treasures:
We must dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.
Tomorrow we will begin Lent, a time for re-focusing on what is essential. It's a good time for de-cluttering - materially, yes, but especially spiritually. It's a time for digging deeply, jettisoning the superfluous and knowing once again the joy of finding our true treasure; for freeing ourselves from whatever weighs us down, and gets in the way of the essential. May we all know this grace and blessing in the six weeks which lie ahead...