15 Jan Recovering Sin
My daily spiritual practice is to get up early, make a cup of coffee and to sit with a biblical text, to let it have its way with me. I keep a journal to help in this task. Then I pray/chant five Psalms before sitting in silence for twenty minutes in a contemporary contemplative practice called, Centering Prayer.
The biblical book that I have been working with these past weeks, is John’s Gospel. This morning I was reading in John 18 & 19, which deals with Jesus’ interview with Pilate. Pilate obviously wants to get out of the situation before him. He knows that Jesus is not a criminal, that he is being asked to do the business of others who want Jesus gone. Pilate is manipulated by the religious leaders and the crowd and acts in ways that go against his conscience. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
Pilate, in his attempt to avoid complicity, at one point tries to intimidate Jesus: “Surely you know I have power to release you and power to crucify you?” Jesus, the one whose life is at stake, stands firm. He never equivocates or bargains. He simply tells the truth, lives the truth, even as it clearly makes Pilate and others uncomfortable. Had Jesus listened more to the inner voice of self-preservation, than the voice of truth within, surely he could have avoided his crucifixion. In speaking with Pilate, he said that he had come into the world to witness to the truth. Pilate’s response is, “What is that?”
Isn’t this a telling question for us? What is truth? Your truth or mine? For many the notion of truth seems quaint or a relic from some ancient past. It’s like a Hallmark sentiment that we hold up to children before they have to make their way in the “real world,” where truth is dismissed with ease. Making a living supersedes truth. Surviving, doing what must be done, operating according to the norms of the world. Who among us have not compromised with the truth?
As I turned to the Psalms, I found myself assaulted by the Psalms as I seek to deal with the issues before me, before us all. The Psalms were 51 – 55. Psalm 51 is a confession of sin and a pleading for a new and right or true heart. Psalm 52 confronts us for preferring evil to good, lying to honest speech, and our love of the destructive word. Psalm 54 prays for punishment of the wicked: “May their wickedness recoil on themselves, Yahweh, ever faithful, destroy my enemies!” So much for the Hallmark sentiment! As I read the words, I remembered my recent dreams and fantasies of brute military force being directed at those who stormed the Capitol last week and toward those who are threatening more violence in the days ahead. The Psalms have a way of revealing the truth of our hearts to us.
As I reflected, I allowed Psalm 51 to lead me into the question, “What is my sin?” Perhaps a better question is, “What sin am I able and needing to look at right now?” What came to mind is my life-long willingness to be seduced from the truth which I know in my truest depths. I wouldn’t call this tendency evil. It’s not that I intentionally decide to hurt people. It’s the opposite. I hate to hurt or stand against people, and am tempted to go along and to ignore the truth of my conscience, in order to protect myself from discomfort. Sometimes this largely unconscious strategy keeps me out of unnecessary conflict. Sometimes it leads to great harm, eventually. Relationships must be built on truth. I have learned how my failure to speak and live truth, especially when it is painful, does not heal, but eventually leads to more pain. I tried to look once again at this deeply embedded pattern of self-protection within me. Was God asking me, once again, to lean into the pain and to seek the truth?
Here we are as a country broken and breaking apart around the question of truth. In our consumerist culture, where we have been conditioned to avoid pain and seek pleasure, we have been able to find a way of only receiving truths which confirm our desires. We have stopped trying to challenge ourselves with other views, other information, with people whose experiences and backgrounds are different from our own. We have bought the delicious lie that the truth will always make us glad and never depart from our desires. Therefore, all of the lies in the world must lie with those others. Punish these liars, Yahweh!
What is truth? Was Pilate really looking for an answer when he asked this question, or was he looking to avoid the pain of self-examination, of genuine wrestling with conscience, by seeking the temporary solace of cynicism? If the Jesus story carries truth, then we might conclude that truth and its pursuit necessarily involves pain. Jesus, the one who sought and was truth, was rejected and crucified. He who was the light was shunned by those who lived in the darkness. We hear a lot of talk today about truth and lies, but we don’t hear of many inclined to repentance, or self-examination, or of confession of sin.
I keep hoping that things will change among us, that truth will become something that we will agree about, that we will look at events like what happened on January 6 and conclude together, “You know, that was wrong. We ought to do what we can to avoid more of that.” Yet, there is a lot of defensiveness, self-justification, pointing the finger of blame and little self-questioning. “Is there something in me which has contributed to our divisions and hatred and mistrust? Is there something in all of us?”
Given my history and my unconscious ways of protecting myself from pain, I keep asking, “Lord, how am I to respond? What is mine to do?” I don’t expect to ever get the answers just right, but I think that for now it’s a good thing to keep asking, and listening. I’ve learned over the years, as I look back upon some rather consequential decisions in my life, that many times there was something in me that knew what was right, and knew that what was right was also hard. Sometimes I have listened to that inner knowing. Sometimes I have not. Listening, repenting, opening to the pain now rather than later seems to ring true to the path of Christ which I seek to follow and often fail to. May God give us the strength to hold the pain among us, until a deeper healing may come.
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