On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let
anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture
has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’
--John 7:37-38 NRSV
How many times have you washed your hands today?
In these days of pandemic, maybe you have lost count of how many times you have moved to a sink, gotten soap from a dispenser or a bar of soap and washed your hands. Did you wash your hands for 20 seconds as health experts recommend? Maybe you sang “Happy Birthday” to ensure you washed long enough?
I confess to still viewing hand washing as a chore. I’m doing it, but I don’t like it. My habit of washing my hands obediently yet begrudgingly goes way back long before the days of COVID-19. I was a boy after all. I dislike making generalizations about gender, but many boys seem genetically predisposed to resist washing themselves. I was especially terrible as a teenager, and now raising two teenage sons I’m experiencing payback for what I put my parents through. My house smells more like a high school boy’s locker room than I care to admit. As I try to enforce basic hygiene, I try to remember I was once that way too.
I certainly never thought there was anything spiritual about washing my hands. I grew up among “free church” Christians, the type of Protestants that includes Baptists, Christian churches (of which Disciples of Christ belong), Congregationalists and others, who originated as dissenters from official state churches that were most commonly Anglican or Roman Catholic. In these traditions, rituals and traditions are viewed with suspicion. After all, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their empty rituals (such as washing hands!), so we were to avoid them too. Never mind that we had our own unconscious rituals and traditions in how we did church.
Faith was a thing one believed rather than experienced. Finding God in nature and every day activities seemed to err into the territory of the New Age movement. Strict boundaries between what is spiritual and what is “worldly” were necessary. In hindsight, I wonder why we talked so much about God being omnipresent, while at the same time we acted as if God was only present in the church building or at sacred spaces like church camp. We missed out on a lot of opportunities to experience God in the ordinary moments of life.
Maybe God is present in the ordinary “rituals” of life, even in the ones we’d rather not do. Maybe God is to be found especially in the moments when we do the necessary chores of life. In seminary, I was assigned The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a medieval monk who was famous for saying, “God is among the pots and pans.” I’ve been wondering lately if I’m missing out on experiencing God’s presence among the many inconveniences of life during the Coronavirus, such as the times when I wash my hands.
I came across the following prayer from the spiritual writer Gunilla Norris and it caused me to think differently about this oh so common activity of washing hands.
Inside, my body consists mostly of water, the way the globe, too, consists mostly of water. I came to be within the waters of my mother’s womb. So when I wash I like to remember that I am in my element…Your water…Your living water. Help me scrub my face free of its masks so I can return to the true self You gave me.
The prayer from Gunilla’s book Being Home inspired me to look her up. On her web site, she shares about writing the book. I love what she says.
When I published Being Home in 1991 I did not know that I had begun a series of books on what I now call household spirituality, or the practice of spiritual awareness in the most mundane and simple of circumstances. Together these books seem to me to be like a crystal with many facets. They are part of one thing and yet shed light from different perspectives on the humblest of our day-to-day tasks. It has always been my understanding that when we are really present in our daily activities, our lives become more luminous, filled with love and grace.
Whether we are living in the present days of confusion brought on by COVID-19 or some blessed future post-vaccine time, our ordinary day-to-day tasks, even the ones we may grudgingly do for our health and the health of others like washing hands, contain the possibility of “our lives becoming more luminous, filled with love and grace.”
May your daily “rituals” be filled with the blessed presence of God.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851