A friend of mine recently had her bathroom remodeled. After much thought and expense, she enlarged her loo, retiled and re-fixtured everything, filled it with her favorite colors and designs, and when all was said and done her redone bathroom was something she was very proud of and grateful for.
So I came over one afternoon shortly thereafter to bless the new bathroom. Invoke God’s favor in and for the new and improved privy. And why not?
In Judaism there is a prayer that observant Jews are to use after “relieving themselves.” It is called the “Asher yatzar” and this is how it goes:
"Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously."
While we may find our excretory functions something to keep hidden from public and proper view (as well as from our own “I’ve got much bigger fish to fry” self-awareness), clearly there is much that goes on as we poop that is downright mystical. And it invites our praise to and awe for the One who enables our pooping.
So there’s one reason a bathroom should be blessed.
Also, there’s my personal experience with such things. Several years ago, the extended Voigts family rebuilt the severely dilapidated outhouse on the old family farm near Allison (Iowa). Even though this privy had not been in use for decades, it was considered such an important component of Voigts family lore it deserved not only a razing and a raising, but a lot of celebration in the r&r. All extent relatives came out of the woodwork to attend to the woodwork, and we found ourselves participating in something that was not only goofily profane but surprisingly sacred.
Before, during and after the rebuilding, stories were shared about the outhouse. Memories were joyfully relived in the memories of relieving. Family members now deceased mysteriously became profoundly alive once more as laughter produced by our sort-of-naughty “bathroom stories” jostled hearts, minds and souls. We were all overcome with a wave of gratitude and awe that our family was committed to doing something as crazy, yet special, as taking a day to mindfully, lovingly, rebuild the outhouse.
And, once completed, we had a little blessing ceremony. I read scripture from the prophet Haggai. After all, his short book in the Bible is all about the blessing that God will bestow upon those who rebuild the Temple. Then my sister, who has pipes matched only by Ethel Merman, belted out a fellow-cousin’s song written for the occasion to the tune — and rhyme — of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” We broke a bottle of cheap beer on the side of our new-old structure, and those who could did some cartwheels.
It was transformational beyond language.
So, it seemed not only quite natural (pun sort of intended) but a significant spiritual opportunity for my friend to have her freshly remodeled bathroom blessed now that it was once again ready for use. I suggested we invite family and friends and make it a party. Even if we didn’t have cheap beer and no one could do a cartwheel.
At first she was a bit taken aback, but an instant later was totally game.
As guests arrived we feasted on chips and salsa, roasted and pickled garlic bulbs, summer sausage and Sociables, and wine. After much laughter and bonding around the kitchen table, we all retreated to the "room of the day", so the sacred ritual could commence.
I began this particular bathroom blessing ceremony at the toilet. This is not because it was of the happily indoor variety and there was room for us to all stand around it. Rather, as I had everyone gather around the bowl, I noted that it is here that something very significant takes place: letting go. Letting go of what’s no longer needed and is now noxious to our well-being as we move onward. I invited everyone to think of at least one thing they presently wanted/needed to let go and after a few moments of contemplation, I flushed the bowl and prayed that letting go always happen in this place and in all needed ways.
Then we moved onto the swanky new sink. I squirted into my palm some hand lotion from a nice-looking bottle by the shiny fancy faucet and then invited everyone to ponder another major activity of the bathroom: renewing and making new. While we may not usually realize it, we were standing in a place of great - and daily - hope! As I then squirted a little lotion into every participant’s hands, I invited everyone to rub it in while thinking about what new/renewed things were coming into being in their lives, or were seeking to emerge. Hoped. I then asked God to help and empower my friend and all of us to grow and be reborn - here, there and everywhere.
Finally, I invited everyone to look up at the large mirror above the sink. Here is another major fixture of every bathroom, and one that invites another sacred activity: loving what is. We look in the mirror and see ourselves warts, wounds and all. It’s so easy to be dismayed by all the imperfections, to look away and move on…. But I invited everyone to spend a few moments of mindfully gazing, acknowledging that all the wrinkles and "wrong stuff" are what make us wonderfully unique, give us compassion, and remind us (as Jesus also reiterated) that we are beloved, beautiful children of God just as we are. It’s of course important to remember that always, and maybe one of our best opportunities to do this…is in the bathroom. Amen, may it be so!
Not unlike the Voigts family outhouse razing/raising, my friend and her friends (now my friends, too!), found this simple three-part observation/blessing to be remarkably profound. Out of the seemingly silly sprung the surprisingly sacred.
I share my journey with bathroom blessings not just because it is fun to regale and has created experiences of astonishing meaning. Perfect fodder for a "Comic Lens" blog post! (And good use of the prophet Haggai imho....)
It seems to me that sacramental life in our world today seeks to expand beyond the “traditional” norms and in all sorts of ways. Even and especially in the Church. For example, the hallowed process of blessing the elements for Holy Communion now controversially includes (or is at least supposed to include) the application of hand sanitizer before the handling of the bread and cup. And then there’s the remarkable ever-increasing expansion of who the Church understands itself entrusted to marry and ordain. For another example.
We are continually invited to rethink what is "holy" and what "holy" is. And, at least for we United Methodists who claim "Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors," the challenge - and opportunity - is to continually answer, "This."
This process is greatly aided, I believe, by choosing to take the journey of faith through the comic lens. By its very nature comedy expands our boundaries of legitimacy -- lifting up the necessary aspects of life normally hidden from "appropriate view" not only for a little bit of notice but for bold, scandalous rejoicing. Plus, comedy revels in irony, paradox, and surprise. The novel! The comic lens brings perhaps the best understanding of just how far-reaching Divine love, peace, healing and joy - and the Bible's message about it all - indeed goes, and always.
Now! Here! That’s right! Ha ha!