| Give us our daily shower
gas crisis contains some interesting lessons. As well as revealing
highs and lows of neighbourliness, it teaches us something
curious about how we make our day. Its a case of you
dont know what youve got, till its gone.
We now realise that our bodies can survive quite well without the
daily hot shower. Many find the Spartan bathing principlecold
and quickquite adequate for physical needs. So why were we
so attached to it in the first place?
Perhaps the real meaning of the shower is more symbolic than practical.
Cloaked by habit, it is difficult to see the more artful role it
plays in our day. Unbound by practical logic, the shower now seems
to be something of a ritual. What kind of ritual is it?
For anthropologists, most rituals serve to bridge two incompatible
moments in time. Thus adolescent rites of passage mark the transition
from childhood and adulthood. If the shower is a ritual, what does
Most of us, thinking what is peculiar to the shower, conjure up
images of tone-deaf divas and backyard Pavarottis, expressing themselves
with a passion found no where else in the day. And how many of our
brightest ideas owe their origin to our free-wheeling thoughts behind
the plastic curtain? As a shame-free zone, the shower bridges bedtime
dreams with our waking reality. Our private fantasies intermingle
with the business of the day. And as our days become more mentally
demanding, it is increasingly important to purge these nocturnal
fancies from our system.
That doesnt quite tell the whole story. It seems reasonable
that we need some ritual to open the day, but why the shower? Not
all cultures do this. The Chinese greet the sun with Tai Chi exercises.
How did the shower become what the poet Les Murray calls this
enveloping passion of Australians? Perhaps it owes something
to our inherited history of the sacred.
Today, many Christian services still feature a ritual known as
the Asperges, when the priest sprinkles water on a congregation.
(This has descended negatively into everyday parlance as casting
aspersions.) The Orthodox tradition extends this to the ritual
of Theophany, when houses are blessed with branches of basil dipped
in blessed water.
Such practices have their roots in the Semitic religions that preceded
Christianity, where this sprinkling, or lustration,
an essential part of the sacrificial ritual. According to a Jewish
source, as the smoke from the burning meat ascended to the heavens,
the priests gentle shower of water symbolised divine reciprocation.
Perhaps our choice of the shower owes something to the Judeo-Christian
tradition, in which sprinkled water is the conventional means of
It may seem ridiculous that something so ordinary as the daily
shower should have sacred meaning. Yet that is also the case with
many rituals of other cultures, such as the Muslim evening prayer.
Perhaps rather than envying the way that non-Western cultures saturate
their day with symbols and rituals, we can learn to celebrate what
we already have at hand, everyday.
So on that first hot shower, we might re-consider our need for
imported exotic rituals. As the Dutch say, We just act normally,
thats crazy enough.
Article by Kevin Murray published in
The Age 6th October 1998