My first house was immaculate. I was so methodical it’s a wonder it didn’t make me sick. No dust bunnies. Clean and pressed clothes. Bills paid. Car oil changed. I could eat off the bathroom floor. I was a purist.
This devotion to purity carried over into my religious thinking and behavior as well. I read and recited the same pure religious words every day. I believed that these words were the approved words of God for speaking, reading, and praying.
But eventually I began to wonder about this entire concept. Are there really special words and special languages which makes a person more acceptable to God? Is there such a thing as a pure textual tradition which can be aspired to or returned to? When people claim this is the case, how do we know that they are capable of making decisions of which is pure and which is not?
Loving Others in the Dirt
My tendency for physical and spiritual purity was challenged the most when I volunteered at an orphanage in Thailand. While there, I used squat toilets. There was no toilet paper. There was no hot water. There often was no place to wash your hands. One quickly learns that certain standards of purity are not as necessary as we might think.
The same is true for standards of spiritual purity. The children I worked with in this orphanage were just as pure as me, if not more so. They had an untainted courage I never had at their age. The children had an unadulterated receptivity to new ideas that was basic, practical—not myopic. They didn’t have a “God-ordained” language for speaking and praying. They just used everyday language to express everyday ideas.
Now that I am back home in New York, I try not to insist on a particular human lifestyle or language or tradition, all of which can go rotten as they become useless or out-of-date.
Appearing Pure vs. Being Pure
I came to realize that appearing pure is not the same thing as being pure.
This simple knowledge has revamped my day-to-day experience. The house now actually gets terribly messy and even dirty before it gets cleaned. I have cats in the house which is tantamount to being raised from the dead because there is no way in heaven or hell that previously in my life I would allow pets in the house. And, there is nothing better than seeing a child and cat love one another.
When it comes to living life and loving others, God is not as concerned with the cleanliness of our hands or the perceived purity of our words, but with the attitude and motivation of our hearts. Don’t let an unclean house or a dirty past keep you from loving others. If God doesn’t care, why should we?