The bathroom is perhaps not the obvious place to start making room for God entering into our world, but why not? Acts of washing and cleansing have always had ritual significance: while they might not have religious significance today the luxury of soaking in a bubble bath, or a wet shave, are rituals of personal re-creation.
For me, the shower is a daily ritual: not so much about getting clean – a basin of warm water would suffice for that – as the thing that wakes me up. And the shower is the place of my first conversation of the day with God, as I am waking up. As I shower, I am reminded that it is the Spirit of God that animates me, that enlivens me, that awakens me: without the Spirit, I am dust of the earth; and when one day God’s Spirit will draw away from me, calling my spirit after him, this body will return to dust. And so I start with dependence on God, with asking for his presence in my life throughout the day ahead, with bringing to God the things that the day will hold, with listening for his prompting.
I don’t have a bath very often, and for me a bath has nothing to do with getting clean: it is an opportunity to soak tired mind and muscles in hot water; a comforting, relaxing end to a day. If the shower enlivens and invigorates me, the bath gives me occasion to slow down, to rest. Because I wash in the shower, the bath is functionally unnecessary – but if life is merely functional, then it is not being lived in the fullness it deserves. The bath is a great place in which to have a conversation with God, reviewing the day – what went well, what went badly – sharing triumph with God, and allowing him to meet us in disaster.
Physically, if we do not expel waste material then toxins build up in our bodies, causing discomfort and ultimately, if not addressed, even death. The same is true spiritually: if toxins such as bitterness or envy or pride are not dealt with, they build up as poisons within us, causing damage to us and to those around us. What sitting on the toilet is to the body, asking for forgiveness of our sins – and forgiving the sins of others, the ways in which they fall short – is to the soul. Moreover, what happens on the toilet indicates our health or lack of health – are we regular, constipated, or suffering diarrhoea? – and these too have spiritual parallels – healthy discipline of receiving and extending forgiveness; blockage to receiving or extending forgiveness; or compulsive seeking or needing to extend forgiveness. As we all have to go to the toilet, why not use those minutes in honest self-examination, confession, and receiving God’s grace in dealing with our waste products?
The sink and its mirror is a place of small actions – shaving, or applying make-up, brushing our teeth, washing our hands – all of which can take on ritual significance: reflecting on what we have thought (head, mind); what we have said (mouth, words); and what we have done (hands, action). Just as regular shaving or brushing teeth are small preventative actions, so attending to our thoughts, words and actions on a regular basis makes changes of direction easier than if left unattended for a long time...
Advent: making room for Jesus – in the bathroom.