It is the end of one of those very long days and my body is tired, my spirit weary. I walk into the kitchen to fill up two large pots with water and put them on the stove to heat. Then I head into the bathroom and begin to fill the tub. We live in a condo with space only for a small water heater, not quite enough to fill the tub, so this routine has become part of my nightly ritual. “I can’t believe you live in the heart of Seattle and you have to heat water on the stove for your bath,” my aunt teases when she calls to check in with me from her house in rural Maine with plenty of hot water. “What a pain that must be.”
Truth be told, I don’t mind at all. It’s all a part of the process for me—these moments of preparation needed to enter this holy space of renewal each evening. Heating the water, running the faucet, pouring in some bath salts, telling my husband I’ll be disappearing for an hour, turning off the phone ringer, all signal to me I am on the threshold of something sacred. This is one of my slowing-down spaces, of which we have too few in our busy lives.
The tub is nearly full and I carefully carry the big boiling pots over, taking extreme care to avoid our sweet old dog who loves to be right underfoot. I pour the water in slowly, making patterns on the surface, and watch the steam rise like incense. I imagine my prayers and concerns being carried to God and held in care. For these few precious moments I don’t need to worry about anything, I can just be. I light a single beeswax candle which gently illuminates the white-tiled room and casts flickering shadows on the walls. I take off my clothes and standing there in my nakedness and vulnerability, I slide into the tub, being received into this womb-space. I bless myself, hands touching my forehead in an act of great tenderness. The water always feels just a bit too hot at first, but slowly my body adjusts and the heat relaxes every knotted muscle, my breath slows and deepens.
I close my eyes and breathe deeply, offering a prayer of thanks for this day that has come to a close. My prayers are not always eloquent or formal. Some nights all I can ask is “Why?” or “How?” which often are the most honest prayers I can utter.
Here in this ceramic font I am a small child again, being lowered into the initiatory waters of baptism and welcomed into the Christian community of faith. I am a Jewish woman entering the mikvah for ritual purification and cleansing. I am a Hindu woman, stepping into the sacred river Ganges, seeking forgiveness of my sins. I am a Muslim woman who believes the words of the Prophet, “cleanliness is one half of faith.” I am connected across the globe in a sacred web to all those who celebrate the gifts of water.
I am aware also in these moments, of the millions in this world who go without clean water and for whom a nightly bath would be an extravagance undreamed of. My heart opens to make space to ease myself into that tension. My tears mingle with the water and I imagine I am being held in a vessel of God’s sorrow.
Finally, my prayers become wordless, only my body prays now, in a physical surrender to this liquid grace. Here in the splendor of silence, I live for a few moments as if the world were at peace, as if I were at peace.
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts