Cleanliness is next to Godliness, they say. It’s usually one of those “mom sayings” that you think just means to clean behind your ears and put on deodorant every now and again. Or maybe you think about all those rules in the Hebrew Scriptures called the Holiness Code about what animals are clean and how unclean we all are if we touch a woman or wear mixed fibers. The weird thing is, it’s begun to make a lot of sense to me.
When I celebrate the Eucharist, I make a point to wash my hands before the service. The most effective way to prevent spreading disease is to wash your hands; at the same time, it cleans my soul, too. I feel lighter, more focused, cleaner, like I’ve just washed my mind and body. Standing in the Sacristy, listening to the choir, running hot water and soap over my hands is so ordinary yet so sacred—it’s like a deep breath. It also feels like a gesture of respect—I’m coming to the Table clean, not covered in dirt or in all the stresses of the week. There’s a reason that our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters take ceremonial baths before worship.
God has high expectations of us—we’re to be loving and accepting but also not take oppression or self-righteousness lightly. We’re to be holy, clean. I don’t think God expects us to be squeaky clean—we screw up and roll about in the dirt all the time—but trying to see our uncleanness is a good first step. Maybe if you spend some time cleaning up you’ll see God in the midst of that ordinary moment.