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Why is cleanliness next to Godliness?

I love sayings, aphorisms and idioms – short, concise, pithy statements containing wisdom so potent that they pass the test of time. Truisms passed from one generation to the next over an indefinite and imprecise period of ages. These proverbs last because deep within their structure is a truth that unpacks and unveils into incredible wisdom – a reflection of the fabric of reality that is best to be seen and acknowledged as soon as practicable in one’s life – so much value is contained and expressed in so few words. And standing high above them all is one of my absolute favourites. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. But what does this mean?

Well-being and health

There can be little doubt that the absence of impurities in our environment can manifest in good health and well-being. For example, maintaining a healthy and hygienic kitchen when preparing food is vital to avoid contamination. Additional examples include regular hand washing, keeping clean dishes, emptying the garbage and sanitisation practices like using and separating fresh and clean cloths and mops from dirty ones when cleaning the kitchen and the bathroom in the same cleaning session. These cleanliness and hygiene practices help prevent the spread of diseases and the overall health of a home and, thus, the health and well-being of the people who live in and visit the house. 

We can maintain this cleanliness and the associated health and well-being benefits by having a clean and healthy environment – both externally and internally in terms of what we let into our bodies – physically and energetically. Maintaining a healthy and clean living environment is a rather obvious interpretation of the saying “cleanliness is next to godliness”, but the more subtle aspects of this saying are even more interesting to contemplate.

Mother with two daughters at kitchen baking

Cleanliness and hygiene practices help prevent the spread of diseases and the overall health of a home


On its surface, the statement “cleanliness is next to Godliness” conveys the idea that being clean and maintaining a clean environment is linked to “spiritual purity” and “moral goodness” and, in some ineffable and intriguing way, even gets us closer to God. Whilst it is impossible to identify the exact origins of the phrase, its overarching idea is indeed reflected in various religious texts. Indeed, it is profound wisdom to acknowledge that the purification of one’s body, mind and spirit in terms of hygiene and clean surroundings symbolically and physically involves the removal of impurities.

This is a critical path from the darkness (dirt and filth) towards the light (cleanliness and purity). This is an implied critical path towards holiness – bringing heaven to the earth, transforming a home into a haven. This idea gives me a sense of purpose as a cleaning business operator. To deliver cleanliness, purity and harmony to families is a calling I feel blessed to have heard and answered in this life. 

Discipline and orderliness

The idea of being clean implies a certain sense of orderliness and discipline. Indeed the opposite of cleanliness, to be unclean, carries a sense of disorder and chaos. And so, to be clean means to be in a certain sense of order – which implies a certain degree of discipline. Keeping your surroundings clean and organised promotes a sense of tranquillity, harmony and peacefulness. A tangible and visceral sense of order in one’s surroundings fosters a sense of order in one’s body and life. As within so without. This translates into the individual qualities of maintaining and reinforcing order regarding one’s thoughts and deeds, culminating in maintaining order in one’s life and relationships. 

It’s beautiful to be with someone who emanates that internal sense of order and peace and is thereby wholly present with you when you interact. My late grandmother, “Nana”, is close in my thoughts when I think of such a person. She always cleaned it “now”, and her house and heart were simultaneously a place of great warmth and divine peace. This increases the likelihood that such a person will have great relationships and manifest a sense of abundance with a life force that has a heavenly vibe. That leads to the final and, by far, more subtle aspect of this saying.

before and after cleaneing copia

Keeping your surroundings clean and organised promotes a sense of tranquillity, harmony and peacefulness

Values, ethics and virtues

Ritual washing and purification practices are contained in numerous religious practices. Such practices demonstrate preparation for sacred activities that commit to a reverence for the divine. And further, an invitation to get closer to God – extending beyond physical cleanliness. This saying encompasses divine ethics, values and virtues, which are steps on the path towards getting closer to God. A virtuous life encompasses honesty, integrity, purity of heart and intentions, and living an upright life. 

When I consider the origins of this phrase, I imagine ancient wise elders teaching the youth of the tribe. Passing this proverb down from mother and father to daughter and son, aunty to nephew, grandparent to beloved grandchild. A pearl of wisdom passed from one generation to the next in an unbroken chain for the benefit of humanity. And possibly inspired by an ancient lost memory of a time when we were gifted such divine wisdom. Perhaps from a time when an ancient and innocent person walked with God. And was gifted wise words to pass on lovingly throughout the ages through the mists from time immemorial.

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