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Prime Time: Cleanliness, for both body and soul

A few months ago I wrote about the Saturday night bathing routine when I was 4 years old. The year was 1943, which followed the Great Depression and was in the middle of the Second World War.

I do apologize to my mother. I wrote that the water was not changed after each bath. My three older brothers assured me that it was. After each of them dried off, they helped Mom empty the water. While they were bathing, fresh water was being heated on the gas stove, so it was ready for the next boy. Memory after 67 years is sometimes distorted.

When I was at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, the head of the Pastoral Counseling Department spoke to us students about bathing. He was wondering how the daily shower came into existence and wondered if it had something to do with our feeling dirty on the inside, in our psyches.

In the ancient world, bathing was not that frequent. Occasionally sects arose which emphasized bodily cleanliness. The Essenes at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written had bathing areas around the compound and insisted on a state of cleanliness. The Pharisees placed great emphasis on washing properly before eating. Jesus was confronted by them when his disciples did not wash their hands up to their elbows before they ate.

There was good reason for this practice. Good hygiene was important for health in the day when cleanliness was not common. The priests in ancient Judaism were in charge of keeping the people healthy. That is the reason why they had so many laws. Don't eat pork because if it is not properly prepared a person could get trichinosis. Eating certain creatures could lead to sickness, etc.

Jesus did not argue for or against the law of washing one's hands. But he did give the Pharisees something to consider. It is not so much the dirt or germs we come into contact that make us ill, but it is what is "inside the cup," that is, what is inside the psyche.

When I was at the University of Minnesota, it became common knowledge that many illnesses were psychosomatic in nature. When the psyche (or soul) is disturbed, it often expresses itself in illness in the body (soma).

After that professor challenged us to think about daily showers, I checked with a dermatologist. He said that the body cannot restore the natural body oils as quickly as we remove them with soap.

I began considering our Saturday night bathing routine, although I and am not suggesting that we revert to that.

After we got a bathtub, shortly after the War, and later a shower, we began bathing more than once a week. Also, when I entered junior high and senior high school, I was involved in sports year round. After a dirty time in the mud and grass of the football field, for example, it was necessary and nice to climb into the shower.

Also, after my ninth grade year, I began working construction in the summers. Coming home to shower was again welcomed.

But since then and the professor's challenge, I began pondering the necessity of showering every day. The dermatologist said that only our pits need to be washed. I began showering three and two times a week and discovered that that was quite enough. I also noticed that my skin quit itching.

So, I wonder, in this day of constantly cleaning ourselves - for example, when I go to the supermarket there are hand cleaners available presumably to clean the handle of the cart and/or to wash my hands before and after shopping - I wonder if we are too concerned about germs and possibly we need to address our psychic needs.

We live in an age where anxiety is pervasive. We realize there is so much of life that we are not able to control, e.g., the economy, and there are so many pressures on us from so many different directions, that we need time to pray. Yes, I use the word pray. It is a wonderful word which means that we need more time for "time-outs," time to consider what is happening in our lives and how to make our three-score-and-10 years on this planet more meaningful and with less pressure.