Cold Showers and Confession

“There’s no point at which you’ve cleaned yourself so well that you never have to shower again.”

—Eric Greitens, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life

“I don’t walk my dog anymore.” I walked him all at once.

— Comedian Steven Wright

“Get in line in that processional / climb into that small confessional / there the guy who’s got religion’ll / tell you if your sin’s original”

—Tom Lehrer, The Vatican Rag

The first thing I do after getting out of bed is brush my teeth. And every day as I brush my teeth I mentally recite a litany of excuses. Excuses for why I don’t need to take a shower today.

Cold Showers Every Day (almost)

About three years ago, I began taking cold showers. At first, I began with a normal shower, then flipped the handle to cold at the end. Then, I took exclusively cold-water showers two or three days a week and warm showers the rest of the time. Finally, I manned up and started taking cold showers about 99 percent of the time.

And it never got easier.

You’d think after three years all resistance would dissolve. It doesn’t. Every day, part of my brain tries to talk another part of my brain out of suffering the discomfort of a cold shower. Every day, I have to overcome the temptation towards comfort.

So, every day I begin with a tiny act of rebellion against my human nature. It’s never easy or pleasant, even though cold showers make you feel 1,000 times cleaner and more refreshed than hot showers.

(Here’s a list of benefits of cold showers.)

I take a daily shower so I don’t stink and to avoid skin infections. (But I don’t use soap or shampoo, which is a discussion for another blog.) I take cold showers for my soul and my mind. It gives me a daily reminder that, with God’s help, I can do uncomfortable things. For I know myself well enough to know that I will avoid, resist, and defy anything that causes me emotional discomfort. Like confession.

Confession Every Two Weeks (more or less)

I try to go to confession every two weeks. Sometimes that slides to three weeks, but I’m pretty consistent with two weeks. I’ve been doing this for a year. Before that, it was every four weeks.

Now, you might think that after a year of confession every two weeks, going to confession would be, for me, a piece of cake. Yet, every two weeks I find myself mentally reciting a litany of excuses as to why this week I might absolve myself from the uncomfortable practice of telling someone my most grievous faults.

  • I’ve been exceptionally good these past two weeks.
  • Except for that time I said (expletive).
  • And that time I thought “I hate him.”
  • And that time I clicked on the story on Fox News about some smoking hot actress’s sultry bikini Instagram selfies that have everybody talking about.
  • And that bill I didn’t pay on time.
  • And the time I wasted.
  • And the work I did on Sunday because of the time I wasted on Friday.
  • And . . .
  • But, hey, at least I didn’t kill anyone or commit adultery or steal (unless you count wasting time at work as stealing).

And every time I get to church for confession, I secretly hope the line is too long.

And every time I kneel down to complete my examination of conscience, I tell myself my sins this week are so weak that the Christian thing to do is to relieve the poor priest of hearing such a boring confession.

And every time I draw back the curtain to the confessional, I feel a surge of hope that the priest couldn’t make it today.

And every time God removes all of those possible diversions and the priest recites the words of absolution by the power granted by Christ Himself (“Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:23)), I walk out of that small confessional feeling cleaner than after a cold shower.

All other things being equal, on average I begin to stink about 52 hours after my last shower. (Yes, I tested this, using my wife as an olfactory meter.)

And, on average, I begin to sin about 19.5 seconds after leaving the confessional.

Little venial sins, at first. But after a few weeks of practicing with the venials, I set my sights on the mortals. Not intentionally, of course. In reality, I’m just pursuing things that the world and our culture extol as virtues or deserved pleasures. “You deserve to ogle Selma Hayak’s remarkable body.”

After two weeks without confession, I’m dirty. Very dirty. And even the frigid water of an ice bath can’t penetrate deep enough to cleanse a human soul.

Exodus 90

I did Exodus 90 last year, and I plan to do it again this year. I wrote little about the practice last year because it’s hard to write about things like Exodus 90 without sounding holier than thou.

This year, though, the world has become even more dangerous to souls than it was last year. And sometimes it’s necessary to be accused of pride. So I’m accepting those accusations in exchange for, possibly, encouraging other men to take on the practices of prayer and asceticism.

You can start Exodus 90 anytime, but it makes sense to schedule it along with some other significant feast of the Church. Because Exodus 90 is penitential in nature, I like the idea of scheduling the 90 days of penance to end on Easter Sunday. That means our next Exodus begins Monday, January 13, 2020.

Here’s a brief summary of what Exodus 90 entails:

  • Form a fraternity of three to ten other men who are willing to meet once a week and encourage each other to stick with the plan
  • Prayer: 20 to 60 minutes a day, including a daily reading from the Book of Exodus provided by the Exodus 90 app.
  • Ascetism:
    • Take short, cold showers
    • Practice regular, intense exercise
    • Get a full night’s sleep (at least seven hours is recommended)
    • Abstain from alcohol
    • Abstain from desserts and sweets
    • Abstain from eating between meals
    • Abstain from soda or sweet drinks (white milk and unsweetened tea are permissible)
    • Abstain from television, movies, or televised sports
    • Abstain from video games
    • Abstain from nonessential material purchases
    • Only listen to music that lifts the soul to God
    • Only use the computer for work, school, or essential tasks (e.g., paying bills)
    • Only use mobile devices for essential communications; nonessential texting, app, and internet use is prohibited
    • Practice fasting days: Wednesdays and Fridays (abstain from meat and only eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal)
  • Fraternity: “The problem with the world is that men do not spend enough time with other men. Jesus, himself, saw the value of fraternity when he took his apostles out into the desert to keep vigil while sitting under the stars and before a glowing fire. Imagine all that was discussed, taught, and revealed on such an occasion!”
  • 90 Days: “The 90 day benchmark is not an arbitrary number; it is a period of apprenticeship whereby a man can re-learn the joy and satisfaction of self-mastery and revered freedom. Consider the reality of the situation: pornographers do their best to expose boys to their illicit trade as they know the younger a boy is when he first views pornography, the more addicted he will be as an adult. Most men spend the entirety of their post-pubescent life unhappily addicted to (or at least harassed by) pornography and lust. In some cases, perhaps most cases, the struggle men endure can last for years, if not decades.”

It’s Not for the Holy

Some people I’ve asked to join a fraternity tell me they’re not holy enough for this yet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing holy about me is that I was made in the image and likeness of God by God. Everything else about me is ugly as sin.

Exodus 90 is for deplorables.

Yes, it’s hard. Your family will be insulted that you don’t watch television with them. Your colleagues at work will think there’s something wrong with you. By practicing Exodus 90, you will separate yourself from the modern world like some sort of weird, contemporary hermit.

And withdrawing from this dark world is exactly what Exodus 90 is supposed to accomplish.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

—Ephesians 6:12-13

So far, we have a small fraternity of three men who have vowed to practice Exodus 90 beginning January 13. I encourage you to consider forming your own fraternity. If you would like to join ours, please email me: bill@hennessysview.com.

Know that NO ONE can do Exodus 90, no matter how “holy” they are. Only by the grace of God conferred by the Holy Spirit can anyone live like a 13th century monk for 90 days while also going through the daily rigors of life in the 21st century. (Even the 13th century monks had to isolate themselves physically from the darkness of the world.) But, if you prayerful open yourself to those Godly graces, they will come to you and you will do it. You won’t be perfect. I slipped into Twitter many times last year. I purchased things that I did not need. I failed to fast many times. I missed a Holy Hour or two. But the grace was always there, every day, every temptation, if I’d only accepted that grace. I chose not to.

In a sense, Exodus 90 is easy. Just let Christ take over and give thanks to God.