God in the Bathroom

The ancient Hebrew language didn’t have a world for “spirituality.” Apparently that category didn’t exist in ancient Hebrew thought because they believed that all of life had the potential to be “spiritual.” This is very different from our dualistic worldview that separates the world into two categories: the spiritual (sacred) and the material (secular). In this worldview, God inhabits the spiritual realm, but he leaves the material realm to us. In order for a dualist to experience God’s presence, he has to transcend the secular realm and tap into the sacred where he will find God. The Hebrew worldview rejects this dualism. Lawrence Kushner puts it this way:

Judaism sees only one world, which is material and spiritual at the same time. The material world is always potentially spiritual. All things– including and especially, such apparently non-spiritual things and grossly material things as garbage, sweat, dirt, and bushes–are not impediments to but dimensions of spirituality.

That means it’s possible to encounter God’s presence anywhere, including the bathroom. Here’s a prayer taken from the Babylonian Talmud that was meant to be prayed while the pray-er was relieving himself:

Blessed is he who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and cavities. It is fully known before the Throne of Thy glory that if one of them should be improperly opened or one of them closed it would be impossible for a man to stand before Thee.

If this prayer makes you uncomfortable because you think the bathroom is off limits to God, then you are a dualist.


  1. Interesting, about 6 months ago I was trying to talk to a guy about hte possibility of every minute of life to be sprirtual and a walk with God. He objected saying that going to the bathroom couldn’t be spiritual. I asked him why God would create something if it was somehow disgusting. A good friend and I have called this the 2 line theory for years. It became apparent to us that we and the people that have worshipped around were looking at things with 2 life lines. One that was “church” and one that was everything else. We could see “others” that were living life on one line. It was the first chink in the ‘perfect armor’.

  2. OK Wade,

    You are going to have to explain this one a bit more. What does encountering God’s presence have to do with garbage, sweat, dirt, feces, urine, a used condom, a light pole, an old worn out tire, a poptart, a gum wrapper, a #2 pencil, etc. What dimension of spirituality are we missing in all these things? Is God in the feces? Is the feces a “sweet, soothing aroma” to God? Is God honored by my business “on the throne”? As you can tell, I’m not connecting the two yet. How do these things have the potential to be spiritual?

    And by the way, which ancient Hebrews are you referring to? I have yet to find a period in their history where they would be a reliable source in anything that has to do with spirituality.

  3. I don’t think the bathroom is off limits to God, but I do reject this notion that anything and everything has to be related to him. As a called and saved person, I agree that every moment of my life is spiritual.

    This notion, however, that God is “in” all these things (garbage, dirt, etc…) is false. That is nothing more than new-age mysticism in a Christian wrapper. This world is cursed because of man’s sin, and most of the things we look around and see come from that curse. We are called OUT of this world. God is not called INTO it.

    Why don’t we stop worrying about the ancient Hebrews, and start worrying about the Bible? Brad has a point: why should we look to the ancient Hebrews as an example? Is their record really that great?

  4. And if you think God is present in the load you just dropped you are a pantheist.

  5. Let’s carry on the discussion. It’s important to note that many societies still view the physical world and spiritual realms as intertwined. So this is not just a matter of history, it is also a matter of current importance. These primal religious groups would laugh at us (the same way we are perplexed by our Hebrew fathers in the faith) if we were to propose that the natural cycle of our bodies to consume, transform energy and then remove waiste was simply a matter of chemicals and muscular activity. Such a simplistic cause and effect explanation would be ludicrous to them. Instead they might see the process of digestion as the most important cycle in their lives as well as important to their livestock. Only God (or in many cases “gods”) could create and sustain such a cycle. They might praise God for a good bowel movement because this means they are healthy and health comes from God.

    It follows, that if the primary killer in our village was dissentary (instead of obesity), we would likely praise God for a healthy bowel movement now and then, too. Appreciating our Hebrew ancestor’s holistic perspective (and current third-world perspective) could even give us a greater love for a God who takes the less honorable things and gives them special honor.

  6. Great comment Russ.

    I’ve re-read my post I don’t see anything in it equating God with feces, M&M’s, or used condoms. Rather I’m saying that all of the various experiences in life have the capacity to convey spiritual meaning.

    The Hebrew worldview is worth studying because its out that worldview that the OT and NT are written. It’s interesting how the Torah includes commands both mundane and spectacular. Here’s how you offer a sacrifice. Here’s how you should plant your garden. Here’s how you should treat your oxen. All of these commands are mixed together in the law of Moses as if to say they all have something to do with Israel’s experience of God.

    God’s not present in the load you dropped, but he’s with you while you’re dropping it and its a blessing from God to be able to drop it and since God’s not waiting for you just outside the bathroom door, why not go ahead and say thank you while you’re in the act.

  7. Russ,

    I think I see your point. But what you are saying doesn’t seem to be what Wade is saying. Wade, pipe in here any time. Russ, what you seem to be saying is the proper functioning of my body is a reason to praise God. I’m with that. To think with amazement how God designed us, multiple systems all functioning in harmony with one another, etc., is truly a reason to praise God and appreciate and praise Him for His wisdom and power.

    But “encountering God’s presence” in a bowel movement seems to enter another realm. What dimension of spirituality are we missing if we don’t sing a song of praise for a healthy bowel movement? I know lots of “dualists” who stand amazed at God for the wonder of the human body, but don’t pray or sing over a steaming pile of you know what. What are you saying those folks need to learn?

    (Are we actually having a discussion about bowel movements as a way of experiencing God?! Whoa! And I’m participating in it!!! Wade, you are good! 🙂

    By the way, this just came to mind. Paul seems to make a separation between the worlds.

    So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
    2 Corinthians 4:18

    Maybe instead of putting more focus on the temporary (physical, material, etc.), which seems to be the call in this post, God says stay fixed on the unseen. I’m just not sure dualism, as you have defined it here, is entirely unacceptable. I can think of more reasons, but I’ll stop for now.

    Wade, I hope you are enjoying Zoe. I’m jealous.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with your follow up (and your orginal post for that matter), so my comment was largely tongue and cheek. But let’s not confuse the necessity for the spiritual and the natural to be seen as one, with looking for God in all the wrong places. This is exactly the problem with the Jewish commentary books (Talmud, Mishnah, Halakah, etc…). Their intention was to help the Jews interpret and abide in what God had clearly revealed, and in the process they overhsadowed the good gift God had given (the law).

    So the 600+ laws that God had given for the Jews to be a contrast society and glorify him had a hedge built around them to the extent that when God did show up, in the flesh in fact, they couldn’t recognize him because they were busy praying over their bowel movements.

    Are the physical and spiritual world interconnected? – Yes. Is dualism dangerous and rampant in the west? – Oh, yes. Should we be praying over our bowel movement, when there is a new testament on the counter next too us? – Not sure, but if given the choice I’ll read through a passage in matthew before I ponder the spiritual significance of sinkers and floaters. Mainly because God speaks clearly in the former…and I’m not sure about the latter.

  9. Oh and for what it’s worth, this has become a really funny dialogue (in the most sophmoric sense imaginable_.

  10. Wade,

    It seems some of us are posting at the same time and not seeing all the comments before we post one.

    You might reread your post. You said in your response #6 “various experiences in life have the capacity to convey spiritual meaning” (which is true), but your quote from Kushner was about “grossly material things … garbage, dirt, sweat”, etc. Then you started talking about going to the bathroom.

    Maybe the whole bathroom analogy is not the best way to introduce your theory and battle dualism. But it sure makes for some interesting discussion. 🙂

    Thanks for the candid discussion and thoughts.

  11. Wade,
    You may have developed a new branch of systematic theology: eSCATology (no “h”).

    And you may finally answer the age-old question: Will there be poop in heaven?

  12. After reading the post last night and making a comment I said to my wife, “Honey, guess what Wade’s blogging about!” Finally something we can all relate with, right?

    One thing we (Westerners) continue to stumble on is our need to make every question a “true/false” proposition. Most of you guys reading this post know better than me that the Hebrew world didn’t work within this model… they could see “both” spiritual workings “and” secular living as unique yet inseparably mixed. This placed the Hebrew mindset as creaturely (ie: created) depending on an all-powerful creator who sustains. There’s something beautiful about that creaturely dependence I think. We’ve detached ourselves intellectually (at least I know I have). So some physical topics become so far off-limits in proper religious circles… yet interestingly we will still ask God to get involved when we need to land a big job promotion. So, I agree with Brad’s point above when he says that it’s probably more than either being a dualist or not. Maybe a dualist can also be an ‘earthy spiritualist.’ Paul demonstrates this trait as he begins contextualizing the spiritual realms for Western minds in Corinth who were already thinking in dichotomies.

    Before we continue the discussion I should add that for the past two years I’ve lived in a society that freely talks about their digestive health. We even talk about it in church and in our context it makes perfect sense.

  13. Wade,
    First time on the blog and I appreciate your thoughts. I just thouth I would meantion that while “spirituality” was not a buzz-word in Hebrew like it is in English there were some pretty comparable ideas.

    You mentioned that they were “very different from our dualistic worldview that separates the world into two categories: the spiritual (sacred) and the material (secular).” In Leviticus we see a similar separation of the “holy” and the “profane.” You don’t use God’s wash basin to shave and you don’t use the altar to have a BBQ (much less pulled pork!). The priests were viewed similarly. In Leviticus 8 – we see things being sprinkled with blood – these things/priests were being set apart by God for a special purpose. It seems to me their view of holiness is pretty similar to our view of spirituality, especially the disconnect made in the OT between the holy and the profane.

  14. according to john 17 jesus spoke a prayer of oneness to hi disciples and us the ones who will hear.he is calling us to be
    on as he is.living in the spirit with a renewed mind/soul and
    our flesh submitted to his word.if this is our walk we will find God even in the bathroom

  15. I am very thankful to G-d for many reasons for bathrooms. Having one is a and was a blessing. When my children were babies the bathroom was often the only sanctuary I had for quiet time to pray. I have in my latter years heard many a praying mother say the same

  16. Wade, you are on to something big here. Most may not understand, but such is the way of truth, especially when fresh and long buried! Hmmmm–grave yards and dirt and consuming worms as spiritual?


    Brother Lawrence and The Practice of the Presence of God comes to mind just here.

    On to washing dishes, I say, all for the glory of God!