When I am honest with myself, I struggle with sin.
There are, of course, the daily slights and stumbles; the things I regret, or kick myself for at the end of the day; the first world sins of breaking my diet or going a few miles over the speed limit. Those pester me, but they are really not my struggle.
My struggle is with seeing, understanding and confronting sin, itself.
I can remember, as a child, trying to conjure a feeling of penitence – of mortifying regret for sin – and finding that the lack of a sense of deep guilt was the closest I could get. Guilt for not feeling guilty. I can also remember times of gut-clenching despair when I suddenly saw the result of a casual remark on the life of a friend – one that revealed my unseen prejudice and left them feeling, once more, devalued. An insult made more potent, when spoken by a friend.
I blame my struggle on my fortunate and privileged position in life. I am fortunate because I have been surrounded by loving family and friends my whole life. I am privileged because I am white, heterosexual, able-bodied, financially secure, and blessed with the education and social ties that come with privilege.
Social structures have not placed their hands around my neck or shoved me into a hole or a cell. I have not felt the real sting of the systems that sin produces. I have not seen the naked face of evil. My part in all this is conveniently hidden from my eyes. Even my gender allows me to play small, to be invisible, to go unchallenged. I am entirely too comfortable to understand, or to even notice, my complicity.
I rather like it that way. The truth is, I have the luxury – or the misfortune – of struggling with sin in ways that make the cross seem out of place – a bit too much.
So, when I reflect, as I did in a previous meditation, on sin as instructive, I wonder if I’ve totally missed the point (again). The beauty of God’s good creation, brooded over with deep delight, has been marred to the extent that it bends against itself – that we, collectively, bend against ourselves until we are trapped in a world remade into a murderous parody, where children starve in the street as diet ads play on T.V.
In such a system, we find that our success inextricably leads to the ill-fortune of others. After all, we tell ourselves, there is only so much to go around. Privilege sets the rules in its own favor and twists lies into a form of truth – allowing me to think that I actually earned and deserve my salary – and that the pay scale of child care workers is also fitting for their work – a correct distribution of wealth according to merit. Within that system, it is win/lose; you must look out for number one; I buy my gain with your loss. There are realities created in that context that place us all as adversaries.
Yet, in the other system – the one I hope to believe in – the one I hope to be the deeper truth – we are inextricably bound to the fortune of others in a very different way. In that other system, ‘everybody does better when everybody does better.’ In that system, the money spent on prisons and bombs and forced enforcement would be spent on playgrounds and education – a potlatch society where giving was the sign of status – or where status was no longer a concern.
I find myself living by one set of rules, while pledging allegiance to the other. And so I struggle with sin – in my head – and leave the struggle there. And that is my sin.
I need forgiveness, but more, I need transformation. It’s not really about resolving my guilt. it’s about changing – myself and the structures I live within. While I hardly know where to begin, I repeat the prayer in Marilynne Robinson’s Home (p.183). It goes like this:
“Dear Father …You are patient and gracious far beyond our deserving… you let us hope for your forgiveness even when we can find no way to forgive ourselves. You bless our lives even when we have shown ourselves to be utterly ungrateful and unworthy. May we be strengthened and renewed, to make us less unworthy of blessing, through these your gifts of sustenance, of friendship and family.”
And another quote from the same book (p. 154) “grace seems to answer every question, as far as he’s concerned.” I need that kind of grace – a grace that clears the way for deepening connection – with God, and with all who, like me, need deliverance from the systems that warp our souls.
4 17 15