The Collect for Purity

The Rev. Susan W. Springer is the rector of St John’s in Logan,Utah, and the rector-elect of St John’s in Boulder,Colorado. She serves on the boards of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge/USA. Every spare minute finds her biking, hiking, skiing, and golfing, which, come to think of it, is probably why the deferred maintenance list is so long…

My house is on the market and—like any motivated seller—I’ve been attending to all the minor maintenance issues I’ve permitted to slide for the last three years. Where the snow sweeps in and snuggles against the door frames in winter the paint had peeled and so a weekend was devoted to scraping and wire-brushing and sanding before fresh paint could be applied to seal the naked wood. Colorful viscous matter has been scoured from the nether regions of shower doors; eager shrubbery has been subdued, and this last weekend I addressed the kitchen sink sprayer, whose round pattern had calcified closed into a few side-glancing streams of water.

White vinegar is the elixir of the household goddess, and I filled a jar with it and soaked the sprayer head. A little scrubbing, a little more soaking, and a final prying loose of the shards of mineralized crust, and the sprayer is once again a fully open conduit for water from the waiting pipes below. White vinegar also worked magic in the shower’s secret places and on the window glass, and the baseboard molding, and the gunk where someone taped a flier to the front door.

In our prayer book, the Collect for Purity is white vinegar for the human heart.

When the priest stands before the people and calls upon the Holy Spirit, she comes, shimmering like carbonated air. She ties back her sparkling tresses in a cotton kerchief and hums to herself as she pours a bit of white vinegar into each clogged and hopeful heart of those gathered. Maybe she uses a spray bottle on some people who just need a touch-up. Maybe others require a gallon of the stuff and a chisel.

Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.

Marion Hatchett writes that the Collect for Purity evokes the words of Psalm 51. If you loosely translate verses 2 and 10 from the Septuagint Greek you come up with decidedly domestic imagery:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. [NRSV Ps 51:2] becomes: Wash me like a garment; agitate the water and scrub me. Free me from my wicked conduct more completely than I could free myself. Purify me. Cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me [NRSV Ps 51:10] becomes:

O God, reduce the disorder and wildness in me, and call into being a spotless heart, one free from guilt and the obstruction of sin. Consecrate a new and straight-aiming spirit inside of me.

I like the term “straight-aiming” because it makes me think of the crooked sink sprayer before its vinegar bath. Open my heart, O God, and make me a clear conduit for your love that waits to be shown to the world through me. Cleanse my secret places of all that rots and mildews there. It is not by my desire or design or agency or might that my interior debris is cleared away, but by your gracious and powerful spirit rinsing through me.

Now the door on my designer oven needs my attention for it sags tiredly on its hinges and will no longer close completely. I don’t know why it has any right to feign exhaustion—I barely use the thing. No matter—I will set a jar of white vinegar inside, close the weary door, and pray. If it works for sink sprayers and hearts, it ought to do something for ovens.

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