My entire adult life I’ve lived in relationship with feeling dirty in degrees.
A humid rainy day with too much running around results in your hair getting a little plastered and a little more sweat than you’re used to in mild weather. Or an unexpected amount of time outside in the heat leaves your shirt stuck to your back. But always expressed by your mind in terms of separation from complete cleanness.
But in the past 6 days I’ve come to find real joy in something that I should probably be able to remember from childhood but can’t quite: the sheer exhilaration of being partially clean. When you start at a point of being completely dirty, there’s really nothing that compares. I’m settling into an every-other-day rhythm on my 15-minute bathroom visit. I’ve firmly observed a few things in that time:
1. You don’t have time to clean everything, so you might as well choose.
2. Dry time is everything.
3. If rinsing is a challenge, too much soap comes into play quickly.
4. You are more resilient than you think.
5. If you’re only able to find 15 minutes every 2 days to clean your body & clothes, you’re just going to give up on your hair. Sight will and should lose to smell every time.
6. This is a downward spiral.
I realized the latter yesterday. I came home from a weekend youth event and promptly washed boxers, socks, and my Stinky’s Pub shirt. Later last night I went to retrieve it and, due to whatever force of nature causes us to smell any piece of laundry we encounter in life, I held it to my face and breathed in. At first I thought, “Ah, it smells so clean,” but then I realized, “No, it smells like someone that had been playing basketball took a break to wash their hands.” Faintly, but present. Crap. I couldn’t wash it again; it would have to wait. Later at church in my button-down (the Stinky’s shirt was still drying) I realized that the armpits of my shirt were ever so slightly damp from sweat and it occurred to me: these shirts are going to be garbage by Easter. The incremental decline in their cleanliness due to my ineptitude as a washing machine is on a collision course with the incremental increase in my uncleanliness. Eventually my pathetic efforts to launder my clothes will be no match for my cumulative failure to bathe well. Huzzah.
But at church last night, a moment of salvation:
About a year ago I found a church in Chattanooga with an evening service that I attend whenever there’s a holiday or for some other reason our youth programs have the night off. Last night following our weekend youth event was such a night, so off I went with the boys. Generally speaking it’s a pretty emotional experience for me; it’s rare that I get to worship so freely. I don’t need to concern myself with how the service is going; no one is about to call me out of the room to deal with a staff matter. I don’t have to answer any questions about upcoming events. It’s just me & a community of faith before God. I don’t mind all of those other things within the life to which I’m called, but it’s special for me to be there from time to time.
It’s an Anglican church, so they observe Lent as we do. Yesterday was the first Sunday in Lent and they noted that during they would be switching from their ordinary exegetical teaching format (going through scripture by book, chapter & verse) to a series employing homilies (short teachings) to recall “old truths.” The priest began by describing how he begins his day with 100 ultimately meaningless decisions, walking us through the preparation for his day step by step, beginning with picking out his toothbrush from the rest of his family’s toothbrushes, and so on. As his story moved to the shower and then back to the bedroom to pick out clothes, I could feel weight lifting from me. I’ve experienced already in this a new empathy for those who live without so much, but here I felt like the loss of those decisions had made some space for closeness with God.
As he finished describing the chaos that leads each morning to his exit from the house 40 minutes after he wakes up, he concluded by saying that after all of that he’s usually pretty tired again, and he hasn’t even done anything yet. As he moved to describe how Jesus moved through this life with probably only one set of clothing, I felt tears come. How Jesus probably only had one way to clean himself, and not often. It didn’t make me feel more like Jesus, like I’d suddenly excelled at being a disciple. Instead it felt like once again I’d arrived somewhere new in my spiritual journey only to find the presence of God already there, already experiencing it, welcoming me.
I felt so loved.