By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
There were some challenging Comments last week regarding how we regard sin. I wanted to hi-lite several ideas that got me thinking further.
Mary Oliver, in her poem sent by Carolyn, declared that we don’t have to “walk on our knees for a hundred miles” to appease God for any wrongdoing. Better to expand our capacity for loving ourselves.
Then my Buddhist friend Stan commented that he thought of wrongdoing as “missing the mark” – committing actions that cause us to stray from our true nature: that is, our Christ consciousness/buddha nature.
But he added that I should have offered a definition of sin so we’d all have a common starting point. This made me laugh (gently). Is there a practicing or lapsed Christian around who doesn’t carry awareness of sin in their bones (if expelled form the mind)?? R.C.’s have particularly wonderful lists, and categories: mortal and venial for starters. You’d better know what they are: dying with some of these unrepented and – the old teaching said – you face a million years in Hell
A startling encounter with a version of penance
From these comments a sobering memory returned, reminding me that for many this topic is too serious for discussion. On a sunny Sunday summer morning, half way on my walk to Church, I saw ahead of me a woman on her knees, moving slowly along the sidewalk. We were still three blocks from the nearest Church entrance. Mass was due to start in 10 minutes. As I pulled alongside, I asked her if she was allright, and could I help? She was a neighbour, from the street next just north of mine, Italian, likely in her 50’s. Her knees were bleeding. She said, No, that she was on her way to St. Peter’s. She insisted on continuing in this fashion but would permit me to walk alongside her. And it seemed a kind of privilege, to be able to support her in what I was beginning to understand was a pilgrimage of sorts. I learned over the next forty minutes (which time the journey took) that she was doing penance for the sins of her son and hoping that she could gain some pardon for him. She had tried everything and this was the only thing left. As she spoke of him, she wept. And kept on taking step (kneel?) after step. Just praying was no longer enough – he was so deeply into sin. This form of self-flagellation was necessary to her to allow her to feel she’d done all she could. “Medieval” passed through my mind – then and now. But it was real for her. And I could only bear witness.
Unfortunately, even by the rules of the Catholic Church, she wouldn’t be considered as gaining something for her boy. Doing penance for someone else isn’t the way to go. But she needed to do what she needed to do. Such is the compelling power of the concept of sin to many many who live among us.
Love Before All
John’s comment puts a more heartening cast on the topic: “Conversely to love our neighbour covers a ‘multitude of sins’ which experientially speaking may be the greatest freedom we can know.”
The emphasis in the comments is upon growing into our true selves, finding freedom in loving, moving toward loving oneself in a more peaceful way.
Resting in God
Karen Thorpe, a friend through many years, is presently contributing some Lenten thoughts in poetic form to a spiritually encouraging newsletter circulated weekly at her Christian workplace.
The topic isn’t sin. It’s about one of the ways of loving ourselves that expands rather than contracts our universe: taking time to rest in God.
By Karen Thorpe
There remains then a Sabbath rest for the people of God for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their own work. Let us therefore make every effort to enter into that rest so that no-one will fall…into disobedience.
The thing about resting in God
It’s a breeze!
You don’t even have to fall down on your knees.
You don’t have to pray in a particular way
All holy and righteous
On a particular day.
If our Creator who made all of this
Beauty, wonder and amazing bliss
Rested…..then what have we to gain
By pushing ourselves for money or fame?
Let us rest in our God while brushing our teeth
Going to work or walking the streets
Loving our neighbour, our friend and our foe
Even loving ourselves – we can rest
Don’t you know?
The thing about rest
And it really is serious!
If even God rested
Does that make you curious?
As always, please contribute thoughts that give us other glimpses of the journey to greater compassion. And social justice.