I confess there is a marked contrast between the cleanliness of the altar and the cleanliness of my office. In the office, I am not always prompt about putting things away, or stacking things nicely. I’m constantly moving piles around, and keep things out long after an event is over. I most definitely have some bad habits there.
The altar of my church, however, is another story. It is immaculate. There isn’t a speck of dust or anything out of place. When I put a new cloth on the altar, I check it and recheck it to make sure it is straight. After a service is over, I promptly put books away, fold up vestments, and the place always looks pristine.
Why the difference? I guess I am guilty, like many other people, of looking at life in compartments. If this is the holy altar, it needs to be spotless. I get that. The office, on the other hand, in my opinion I guess, is just an office. It doesn’t equate to the holiness of the altar. But shouldn’t it? Is it only in the altar that God is present? Can’t holy things happen in my office, just as they do in the altar? The answer is YES to all these questions.
A sense of holiness is supposed to permeate every aspect of our lives. It’s like when a person says that they are truthful ninety percent of the time and you wonder, what about the other ten? If someone is untruthful ten percent of the time, they are a liar. So, if someone says “I seek holiness ninety percent of the time,” then what about the other ten percent?
Saint Paul tells us that we are the temple of the living God. God does not only reside in our church building, or in our altar. He resides in our offices, our homes, our relationships and our own bodies. Our bodies are supposed to be holy entities. God created each of them in His image and likeness, and has put His Spirit, Himself, into each of us.
So, if we are eating too much, or having too much to drink, or if we never exercise, or if we mutilate our bodies, we are not keeping our “temple of the living God” in an appropriate way. When our eyes see bad things or our mouths say bad words or our ears listen to bad music or our minds give way to bad thoughts, we are also not keeping our “temple” as it should be kept.
Of course, we all fall short with this. No one has an immaculate temple of the body and mind. This is part of the struggle, part of the Christian journey, to “cleanse ourselves form every defilement of body and spirit and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) How do we do this?
I guess when I think on this question, I think about how I keep the altar at church clean. First, there is an understanding that the altar should be clean. Second, there is a desire to keep it clean. Third, there is a plan, a schedule for how to keep it clean. And fourth, there is a joy, a satisfaction, in having the altar clean.
It’s the same thing with our bodies. First, we need an understanding that they should be kept clean. This comes from continuingly acquiring knowledge about God and what He desires of our bodies and our lives. This comes from reading the Scriptures. Second, there is a desire to keep our bodies as God wants them to be. This comes from personal prayer, as well as encouragement from others, being around others who share the same desire and can encourage this desire in one another. This is one of the things a church community does. It encourages holiness in its members. Third, there has to be a plan. I have a couple of set times each week that I clean the altar and set it up for the next service. I have a couple of set times each year when it gets a thorough “deep” cleaning. We should set up time each day for prayer, asking God to cleanse the body of bad thoughts. We should set aside time each day for reading the Scriptures. We should set aside time each week for worship. And we should set aside time at least once per year for a “deep cleaning,” going for confession. Finally, when we do these things, there is a joy, a satisfaction, of having a clean body.
I once read an analogy about getting one’s car washed. When someone has gotten their car washed, they don’t want it to rain that day, or have bird droppings on the car. There is some pride and joy in having a clean car. They day you thoroughly wash your car, you aren’t going to leave litter in it. The problem is that one day, you leave a piece of litter in the car. And then another. And then another. And eventually the car becomes really dirty. The solution here is to pick up the litter as we accumulate it, and the car stays in pretty good shape. The temptation is to leave the litter and let it accumulate because we get lazy or complacent.
Our lives work the same way. Striving to be holy needs to be a daily pursuit. Keeping our “temples” clean needs to be a daily pursuit. Keep after it daily, and the temple stays clean. Become complacent and the litter quickly accumulates.
When I get back from vacation and haven’t been in the altar for several weeks, it means I need to spend some time to get it “back in shape.” When I stay on it weekly, as I do most of the year, it takes minimal (albeit consistent) effort to keep an immaculate altar. Now, if I could just translate that to my office, my body and the rest of life, I’d be well on my way to holiness.
Lord, as a weapon against the Adversary You have given us Your holy Cross. Gripped with fear he trembles unable to endure to look upon its might, because it raises the dead, and death itself it neutralized. For this reason we adore Your three-day burial and rising again. (Third Resurrectional Praise, Matins, Plagal 4th Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Clean your “temple” every day through prayer, and be continually vigilant in allowing dirt to accumulate. Don’t keep God in a compartment. Keep Him at the front of your life at all times!