Well, daylight savings time just ended, which means . . . I suddenly have an extra hour to blog!
The idea of sin has been dancing around and around my head. I recently escaped from a truly horrible relationship. As I was leaving it, I found myself, time and again, doing things which I couldn't stand myself for. Not only that, but I was doing things which didn't seem to be like me, in the slightest. As soon as I was clear enough of this relationship, I looked back and realized that for the whole two and a half years of it, I had been doing this. I had been losing myself. It was only when I was partially free enough to realize it that I saw what I was doing, and was convicted of it.
Now this got me thinking on the nature of sin. Thomas Merton talks a lot about the self, and identity in God. One of his essays is called "Things In Their Identity." He says that (for example) an oak tree is always an oak tree. It is exactly what God intended it to be. It is fully itself, and can never be anything else. In the Islamic tradition, this is called an 'involuntary Muslim'. Muslim means 'submission' (which I find incredibly beautiful, by the way). A tree can not choose, therefore it is an 'involuntary Muslim'. Therefore its existence glorifies God.
Humans, on the other hand, can choose either to be themselves, or not. When we are not ourselves truly, we are not following God. At the same time (and CS Lewis talked about this as well, in the one chapter of Mere Christianity that I LIKED as opposed to the ones that made me want to hurl the book across the room), it is only in God that one can actually find or be oneself. It all ties together. Sin as turning away from God and our true selves.
At the same time, I was thinking on the nature of children, and the particular joy I feel in the last few minutes of meeting as they come in. This week in meeting I felt called to speak, and I mentioned the above, about being an involuntary Muslim . . . or not. And I also realized, and mentioned, that we are called to be child-like in our faith. And the reason for this, I believe, is that children are the best or perhaps the only human example of sinlessness. They cannot yet choose to be other than they are. This is why the children inspire me so, and why we are called to their perfection.
Speaking of being called to perfection, is it not that we are also called to a Christ-like perfection?
I know I am not an orthodox Christian by any means, and when I think of Christ I don't think of Jesus the man, I think of a state of being. We are called to become ourselves in Christ. Perhaps Jesus was the only adult man who walked on earth who ever attained this state of perfection, of being wholly himself. Trees do it and children do it, because they are incapable of not doing it. To be fully ourselves as an adult human . . . this is the nature of the child-like, Christ-like perfection we are called to. And it's not easy.
So this is what I got out of my relationship. I don't think it was specifically my 'fornication' (for instance) that was my sin. It was my turning away from God, in not being fully myself. It was in how the boundaries and deliminations of that relationship turned me into Other than what I should be.
Now, I was brought up Catholic. Being brought up Catholic, one is inclined to think about sin in terms of specific rules that one can infract. You break the rule (sex, for instance), it's a spot on your soul, it needs to be wiped away.
Interestingly, the Eastern Orthodox (and Jewish) tradition doesn't see sin like this. Sin's not about the specific rules at all, although they exist. It's any behavior which 'misses the mark,' meaning: draws the person in question farther away from God ('missing the mark' is how the word 'sin' is translated in the original Greek). It's not then that one needs to wipe the sin away. God already does that, unconditionally, because God loves us when we cannot love or forgive ourselves. It is that one needs to find the path again. Back to one's true self, and back to God.
As a brief coda to this post, these thoughts also led me to thoughts about forgiveness.
There have been few people in my life that I have been truly furious with, and needed to forgive (and by forgive I don't mean 'let the matter slide.' I mean the utter forgiveness in which one lets go of any need for apology or repayment). One of these was a person who brutally hurt my closest friend. I simply could not forgive her, for quite some time. I carried this grudge in my heart and could not let it go. It was only when I came to the full realization of my own sin and my own failing that I was capable of forgiving her. And this made me think that perhaps this realization of our sin is the core of humility, and that humility is entirely necessary for the act of forgiveness, or forgiveness becomes merely self-righteousness. I freely admit that pride is by far my greatest failing. I have so much pride. It is good for me to be reminded in this way to let go of my pride, and forgive.
Now if only I could forgive myself . . .