On wudu

Dear H,

The idea of breaking wudu is a tenet of the Muslim religion.  It may be defined as follows.
Wudu, or ablution, is both a traditional ritual and a practical means by which Muslims seek to maintain good physical and spiritual hygiene. Traditionally, Wudu refers to the mental preparation and physical cleanliness of Muslims for the Salat (prayer), one of the Five Pillars of Islam
To the rest of us the idea of approaching God cleanly has been a process of development.  The Jews first of all wouldn't let you approach God, and He was said to reside in the Holiest of Holies, a tiny room inside the tabernacle which contained a table above which sat the real presence.  This seems to imply that God wasn't everywhere; and if He was somewhere, He was somewhere more than others.  Moses himself was allowed into the presence of God, and when he approached the burning bush he was told to take off his sandals -- for you are standing on holy ground.  For the rest of the Jews, entering the presence of God without being a high priest, without waiting for the allotted time, without going through cleansings and sacrifices and all kinds of tedious rituals beforehand was considered a grave offense; and around the time Jesus was born, the priest who was fortunate enough to get inside the Holiest of Holies was chosen by lot.  The rest of the Jews were kept at a distance, and the entrance to the Holiest was kept perpetually shut.

With this in mind the Christians must have come as kind of a shock.  First there was the issue of an average-looking Man, walking about in the filth of poverty and lower-class clothes, claiming to be the Real Presence Himself.  Then came the idea, developed immediately at Pentecost and still hard for Christians to understand*, that Christians weren't only indwelt by God, but in a sense were little Christs*.  Insofar as you have done to the least of these, you have done it unto me is the language Jesus used here; and Christians have had great difficulty accepting it ever since.  God is everywhere; but He's indwelling Christians.  You're always in His presence, but much more so in the presence of believers.

Then Mohammed came and he struck some kind of a compromise between the Jews and the Christians.  God was everywhere but you had to get ready to address Him.  No longer forced to worship God at the appointed place (other than once on the hajj), but simultaneously lacking a thorough and theoretical transformation, the Muslim goes through a checklist whenever attempting to pray.  You have to be irreligious or very religious to believe it: that God is all around you and listening to you and watching your thoughts every moment of every day but that passing gas in prayer is an affront to His majesty.  That somehow the God who sees you when you're praying isn't the God who sees you when you're pooping.

In all these things there's an element of the psychological; and we know that when we address our lovers or our parents or our teachers or the president it's best to do it respectfully.  The offense lies in where we're directing our being and how we're doing it; and while we understand the Muslim's manners, we wonder what to do with his theology.  Simply put, there isn't any way to change who you are before you pray to God.  You can try to get your heart right but that's about it**.  There are parts of you that stink and there's little you can do about them.  There are parts of you that can't change in any permanent sense, and you'll go back to being whatever you were shortly after you're done praying.  

A holy man knows that God knows this and prays anyway.  So does a screw-up.  Wudu is a joke because people are a joke.  None of us can ever be clean unless Jesus is real and God sees us as having the righteousness of Jesus.  The Unio Mystica may be impossible to believe but it's the only thing we can believe if we're ever going to pray comfortably.


*What deeply bothers me about Christians is the immense lack of weight so many of them give to their religion.  Quite frankly I found it unbearable.  The idea that every morning the second you wake up you're responsible for being the ambassador of God -- no, not even the ambassador, but that you are the living, breathing manifestation of God in man, can only lead an honest man to feel like a fraud.

There's little urgency in the church, and even less sincerity.  The excuse I'm just a sinner saved by grace is an insult to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  I've known many great Christians, but never a perfect one.  I've personally been a horrible one.  Even in my most zealous moments I was way too human; and the question of whether God Himself would have acted like me was too terrible a question to keep asking it.  Simply put I'm not God, and the only person I would rather not be than a sinner is a person who has all the wrongness of a sinner with the additional failure of impiety.

I'm not questioning whether God could ever love a sinner -- if God has made us all sinners then He has to.  I'm questioning whether God has ever really indwelt them, and if He does, whether anyone has yet to realize it.   If we really believed it we'd be much more reverential toward each other.
**Jonathan Edwards, the greatest theologian I've ever read and probably the most important pastor in American history, lost his church over the question (essentially) of wudu.   In short he refused to give the sacrament to anyone he believed was unworthy.  His parishioners disagreed and they gave him the boot.

If this goes to prove anything, it's that two people who claim to have the Holy Spirit can disagree, and that even if you're a genius you can misread an obvious passage.  First Corinthians 11:17-34, which Jonathan Edwards totally botched, concerns a church where people were getting trashed at the Lord's Supper and hogging the bread and cutting in line.  It reads as follows.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
What this is supposed to mean is that you shouldn't take communion like a jerk.  What it's taken by many to mean is that you shouldn't take communion unless you've considered wudu.  I wouldn't argue for a second that anyone ought to not take it seriously.  But who's ever taken it perfectly?  You pray for your sins before you take it, and then after you take it you sin.  It's good to have a clean heart in the moment.  But who ever had a clean record?  Who except the dead has ever had a clean future?  

What's remarkable about Christianity is that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is (supposed to be) love, joy, peace, patience, understanding, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.  It might be said that many of these are redundant.  It also be noticed that nowhere is mentioned rightness or agreement.  The Holy Spirit builds your virtues but He lets churches fall apart over a bad reading of First Corinthians.  He makes you a "great person" but He can't help you define what a great person does; and He certainly can't keep you from taking an idiotic interpretation of I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.  Herein lies the difficulty for me.  The Bible is said to be the word of God, and The Holy Spirit can't even make you understand the words of the Holy Spirit.

On an interesting side note, know that I've been personally denied communion in the middle of a church service.  I was in one of the front rows and it hurt and I was embarrassed, but from the moment it happened I was supportive of their decision.  I'd already told the pastor I didn't know if I was Christian anymore.  I would have refused communion anyway but I was specifically not offered it.  And even more importantly I would never have violated any Christian's conscience to take it.  They held Jonathan Edwards' position and the really Christian thing to do was to let them.  

This issue still causes problems in the church today, after two thousand years of Christian learning and the alleged influence of the Holy Spirit.