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Praying for Purity

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

“…’You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:16)

At 16 weeks, Baby Chris’s eyesight and eyelashes are developing rapidly. Most importantly for his parents’ peace of mind, the chance of a miscarriage drops to 1%. He also pees about every 40 minutes!

It may seem strange that babies pee in the womb, but it’s true. One the heart and kidneys are functioning, the kidneys create urine, which is peed into the amniotic fluid, which babies constantly swallow – and breathe – throughout gestation. This means that all human beings have swallowed – or breathed! – their own urine! Babies don’t usually poop in the womb, though – those wastes are converted into something tar-like called “meconium,” where it is stored in the intestines. After birth, the greenish-black meconium is the first waste eliminated by the newborn. Thankfully for new parents, meconium has no odor at all (!) and is, in fact, sterile, presumably because the baby’s intestines are not yet colonized by bacteria.

There is a traditional Jewish blessing known as the Asher Yatzar, or commonly, “the bathroom blessing.” It is a favorite of giggling schoolchildren, who are taught to say this prayer after using the toilet:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned man with wisdom, and created within him many openings and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory, that if but one of them were to be ruptured, or but one of them were to be blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You. Blessed are You, God, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

If you are unfamiliar with it, a little reflection on how uncomfortable it is to have a stomachache (with either constipation or diarrhea!) will help bring you to a place of understanding that it indeed right to offer thanks for the gift of good health that is evidenced by our systemic regularity.

Scripture is clear that cleanliness and purity are markers of holiness. God is understood to be perfectly good and pure, and nothing impure or unclean can exist in God’s presence (Exodus 33; Isaiah 59:1-2). Since the glory of God dwelt among God’s people in fire and cloud, constant attention to the purity of the community was necessary (Leviticus 11-16). There were lists of animals and foods that were designated “clean” and “unclean” (Lev. 11; Deuteronomy 14). There were rules for cooking certain foods with special pots that were intended to remain “holy” – set apart for their dedicated purpose – and undefiled by cross-contamination (Lev. 11:32-35 ; Num 31:21-23). There were specific instructions for removing sick persons from the community until they recovered (Lev. 15:31), and for demonstrating wellness before returning to share the common life. Certain sexual activities were identified as immoral (“unclean”) (Lev. 18), while the marriage bed was to remain pure and undefiled by adultery (Hebrews 13:4). Priests, particularly, underwent extensive purification rituals before serving in the Temple (2 Chron. 23:6).

As miraculous as a healthy renal and intestinal system is in its design, it is also a daily reminder that the regular removal of impurities and waste is necessary to human flourishing. A little bathroom thanksgiving can help us remember that there are other kinds of impurities – sins – that need attention and evacuation before they back up (or overflow!) and make us physically and spiritually ill. And when we “bless the God Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously,” our thoughts may turn to the fact that as long as we live, we can never “eliminate the need to eliminate.” That day will come in eternity, when we will be surprised to finally understand what it means that we have been forever cleansed from the inside out; no longer full of our own Sin-tar, but filled instead with the purity of Christ.

“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (I John 3:2-3)

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