"Cleanliness is next to godliness" is a phrase we have heard all our lives. Sadly, it is often used in a scolding manner, or to shame us — or we even mutter it ourselves in a moment of discouragement.
Cleanliness, which extends to the physical environment around us, reflects a state of mind, of inward being that is revealed in the routines of how we live and the choices we make.
We are stewards over the things of the earth; we know that. All we do reflects awareness and respect for what is around us or a thoughtless lack of the same.
A few weeks ago we explored the spirit of place and the ways we make something our own — the ways we comprehend and become part of our surroundings.
One way is to care for them. My sister, Jeannine George, serving with her husband as head of the Argentine MTC, wrote, “It got to the point for me, with all our moving around, (they worked in the Church Education System, and went wherever the LDS Church chose to send them) that a house became a home for me when I had cleaned it, every inch. Once my hand had part in the cleaning, it belonged to me and I to it.”
A French philosopher taught that "things should belong to those who can best care for them." Therefore, respect — being, in truth a state of spiritual being — is manifest in all we do or in nothing at all.
I was 16 when we dedicated the chapel in Rockford, Ill., which I and the other teenagers had done our enthusiastic parts in helping to raise. We had to wait until the building was entirely paid for, so we had been using it for a time, and now gathered to clean and prepare it to be presented to the Lord.
I remember one afternoon when we had met as a large group of girls and women, and each was assigned different areas of work. I opened the door of a huge storage cupboard, and the things stuffed inside began to slide and shift precariously.
"Close it quickly," someone said. "At least we don’t have to tackle that."
But I did. I felt instinctively that we could not present our chapel home to the Lord unless every corner and cupboard was organized, clean and presentable before his discerning, and we hoped, accepting eye.
“Cleanliness is the cornerstone of discipline,” wrote Wes Fessler, “and the trademark of success.” And Alexander Pope reminds us, with authority, “Order is heaven’s first law.”
Thus did the Lord admonish the early Saints, and us, in Doctrine and Covenants 90:18: "Set in order your houses; keep slothfulness and uncleanness far from you."
Why? Because we cannot think, judge, move forward, or spiritually feel and perceive at our best when our environment is hampering. Especially in the chaos, the bombarding, fickle confusion of demands and sensations with which we struggle daily, the inner core of order is paramount.
Joseph the Prophet at one time explained that angels and heavenly messengers cannot abide the atmosphere of uncleanliness and confusion, and are unable to make an appearance or visitation when such conditions are in place.
Surely there is nothing but the clearest, most exalted order within the House of the Lord: order in what takes place there, and order in all that our eyes — and the eyes of our spirits — rest upon.
Pearl S. Buck’s statement is given meaning here: “Order is the shape upon which Beauty depends.”
Order, therefore, releases loveliness and gives Beauty strong, sure wings of expression upon which Truth can soar.
We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that cleanliness and order confine us. Never so. Cleaning and working are part of a creative process -– and they help in that continual progression of creating, or renewing, harmony and beauty within us. We feel it; we recognize it and are drawn to it whenever we make place for it in our lives.
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Gustave Flaubert encouraged, "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." That is as thought-provoking a statement as Joseph’s insights concerning angels.
As Brigham Young said, "We are trying to be the image of those who live in heaven; we are trying to pattern after them, to look like them, to walk and talk like them."
I say, embrace cleanliness and order that the light of your eternal spirit might be released — and reflected in all you do; that what you are, and how you live may be in harmony with the standard of beauty and order now and forever existing in the home of our heavenly parents, whose presence and likeness we seek.