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Cleaning Up Our ActFebruary 10, 2015
In all the Holy Books of the world's religions, there is a virtue that is named as a stepping stone to Paradise, bringing us "nearer my God to Thee." It seems such a simple one, yet it is the key to our highest good, the secret of a truly successful and happy life. It is one I think of each time I drive around and see the shock of man-made rubbish marring the beauty of our islands. It is one I pray for every morning.
We have all heard: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". The practice of physical and spiritual cleanliness is mentioned often, including in Leviticus 15 and in Isaiah 1:16: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;" I find it so interesting that cleaning up our spiritual act, by stepping out of the trap of evil-doing, is in the same sentence as washing our bodies. They go together. When our house is clean and orderly, it gives us a sense of fresh opportunity, a clean slate for our minds and hearts as well. Purity of heart, mind and intention is the true goal of every spiritual seeker. It is not a path for the faint-hearted.
It takes courage to purify our lives, to cleanse the dust of destructive habits and influences, to dare to refresh our lives with the new, with change, especially in ourselves. "Change is the egg of the phoenix" says author Christina Baldwin. It takes profound courage and purity of intention to change even the smallest ingrained habit, even more so a familiar addiction.
We must dare to step out of our limited versions of ourselves, in order to take firm hold of hope. Never get discouraged by not starting over after a mistake, even a tragic one. I have spent time with "lifers" in prison, those who have committed serious crimes, such as murder. I tell them "You are more than the worst thing you have ever done. You are full of blessings -- full of virtues." Some become virtues facilitators while doing their time, and wash away their hopelessness with service. Inmates in Fiji created the art for the Fijian virtues cards. In the Cook Islands, a gifted artist who is serving time is doing the same, creating exquisite Maori symbols for the Maori language Virtues Cards.
All of us sin. We go off the mark, off track. We lose the plot of why we are here. Desire and greed can steal our lives away if they expand out of control of our self-discipline. Yet, we can always be redeemed by choosing to come back to God, to the good, to ourselves. Every mistake we make has the potential to be our greatest teachable moment. And we are never too young or too old to learn. Just like the prodigal son, we are always welcome to come home.
Island children chant, "clean mind, clean mouth, clean hands." A tall order to think, speak and act with integrity, yet it is a worthy goal. Orderliness and tidiness around us, cleanliness of our bodies has a profound effect on our wellbeing and our health. When our four year old adopted granddaughter comes to play, she knows that before she leaves, the toys we keep for her in a special drawer go back in. "Toys away, toys away, everybody helping, toys away" we sing together. A yard raked clean not only feels good to us, it inspires others to keep theirs clean. The Baha'i teachings say: "In every aspect of life, purity and holiness, cleanliness and refinement exalt the human condition and further the development of man's inner reality. Even in the physical realm, cleanliness will conduce to spirituality."
Ancient spiritual traditions such as Zoroastrianism teach this as well: "Next to life purity is the greatest good for man." (Vendidad 5:21) The Gospel of Buddha says, "Cleanse yourselves of evil and sanctify your lives. There is no other way of reaching truth."
Make it your first priority to plan your life by your true priorities. What is your heart's deepest promise? What do you want to do with your precious time and energy? What is stealing your health and draining your energy? Create a space of grace around you to help you set your spiritual house in order as well. Ask for Divine assistance. As the Psalmist said: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10)