As a child my hands were often in the dirt. I made mud pies and pottered in the garden. I would often be found burying the little mice and birds caught by my cat. In many ways, I was messy. If my mother got me ready early for a party, it was impossible for me to stay clean unless I sat on my stool and stayed perfectly still. Otherwise, there’d be dirty marks on my dress within 10 minutes!
My school jotters were smudged; my books were dog-eared. Once I absentmindedly put my finger into the little hole in the inkwell on my desk. I pulled it out and the well came out too. Unknown to me, the teacher had filled them ready for our afternoon writing lesson. Navy blue ink flew across the classroom and the stain on the wooden floor boards remained for the rest of the school term. In my early teens I was forbidden to touch my brother’s things, especially his LP records – I never did learn the handling technique and just covered them with finger prints.
I hated the expression, “Cleanliness is next to godliness!” and I still do.
However, something I’ve learned through this pandemic is the importance of hygiene and how to wash my hands properly. These UV light demonstrations that show up the dirt when it’s not done right are quite shocking. You wonder if anyone is really clean.
Some faiths have ritual washing of hands as part of their religion. It’s good for cleanliness and is also symbolic of purification. The religious Pharisees were cross with Jesus’ disciples who seemingly ‘ate with defiled hands’ not adhering to these ceremonial traditions ( Mark 7:5 ). Jesus had to point out that sin comes from inside outwards, not the other way round (Mark 7:21). Washing hands can’t clean the heart.
Pontius Pilate tried to symbolically wash his hands to free himself from the guilt of crucifying Jesus, but it couldn’t be done. Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth washed and washed, descending into insanity, but the ‘damned spot’ remained.
King David asked, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in God’s presence?” The answer:
“He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4).
In my late teens, early 20s I became more aware of my impure heart. It was as if every thing I touched left a stain. My life was empty and vain, though I’d pursued happiness with a vengeance. It was a great revelation when I voiced to myself,
“I don’t need to be happy, but I do want to be clean!”
Of course, the only truly clean person was Jesus, in whom no uncleanness was found. He alone is full of love and truth and could touch defilement without becoming defiled himself. His purity was and still is contagious. My breakthrough came when I understood Christ died for me.
“God became him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
I had never felt so clean. No longer in search of happiness, I was surprised by an unspeakable joy. Oh Happy Day!
Now, everywhere you look you see hand sanitiser but early on, when people were stockpiling, it was hard to find. Then I remembered I had a bottle of lemon cologne I’d brought from Istanbul. There’s a lovely Turkish custom. When you visit a home the hostess sprinkles lemon cologne on your hands. It is so refreshing on hot sweaty days but in the winter, at 80% proof, it kills germs and acts as a sanitiser.
That’s the kind of cleanness I want. One that has a sweet smell. Not an abrasive cleanness that smells of bleach! I don’t want one devoid of love that requires distancing from the world ( like me as a child sitting still on a stool, afraid of getting dirty) but a cleanness that is constantly being refreshed by the Holy Spirit, one that can sprinkle that sweet aroma of Christ near and far.