Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Cleanliness & Godliness

I just mopped my kitchen floor. And it was dirty. Brown-water, sinfully dirty. Brackish as the marshlands. I have noticed that I regularly tell Beezy not to play on the dirty floor. Sometimes this is because we are going somewhere soon, and I want her clothing to look presentable. But other times, the dirt is so visible as to be a living entity which might gather her up and blow her out the door...

That saying, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness"--I often wondered, as I lived in an embarrassingly messy apartment, what did it mean? Did it have something to do with how often one bathed, or did it refer to purity of mind? Or could it--please Lord, no--have to do with the state of one's housekeeping? If a tidy home equaled a beautiful soul, then mine was as dark as the filth I rinsed from my mop this evening.

Eventually I had read enough self-help books to concede that the state of one's environment surely had an effect upon one's peace of mind--or lack thereof--and vice versa. The feng shui theories of clearing blocked energy via proper placement of furniture and decorative elements, reducing clutter, and keeping one's living quarters clean became commonly accepted wisdom. I lived alone until I was 33, so there was no one else in my apartment to blame for the chaos, unless you counted the cat. And I certainly felt better when I cleared the debris. I could think. I could breathe.

It doesn't matter, really, whether we live alone or with five children and a husband. My neighbor has 4 kids under the age of five, yet you can drop in any time and find her home always immaculate. What is the meaning of this madness? In two words: good habits. It isn't about whether you are married or single, childless or running a mini zoo. You either have good habits or you don't. I don't. Today I break free of my denial! If I were truly holy, would my house be cleaner? Am I not holy enough because I can't keep it all under control?

Before we get carried away, let's just take the first step of awareness. While there is certainly room for improvement, I have in reality made a great deal of progress. I think that at one time I had a mild hoarding disorder. I wouldn't have gotten on "reality" television for it, but I had definite anxieties about throwing anything away (and this was before the days of recycling). I no longer have a hoarding disorder, though I will balk if my husband tries to force me to go through an entire stack of papers and decide in a split second whether each item should stay or go. I still need the time to make sure. Besides, we don't want to be too much Martha and not enough Mary. You know, the sisters of Lazarus in Bethany that Jesus visited. He told Martha that Mary took the better part by sitting at his feet when she was fussing about doing all the work. Perhaps holiness is only one part cleanliness and two parts prayer and contemplation.

Saints Mary and Martha with Jesus

My home is probably six times bigger than my old apartment when I was single, and now I have a husband, child and dog. And by and large, things are cleaner and less cluttered. This is a huge accomplishment, and of course I have a lot of help from my husband. While it is a constant, repetitive battle, I do believe it is our sacred duty to instill good habits in our children. This is a gift we can give them that will serve them for their entire lives. Some day, perhaps, Beezy will be mopping her own kitchen floor, and the water will be a mere light gray.

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