I've been continuing to think about this whole idea of self-examination and the obstacles to facing oneself. One of the books I'm reading for Lent is Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust. In the final chapter of the book, itself titled "Ruthless Trust," Manning spends a bit of time talking about sin. He starts by quoting John 1:1:18 "If we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth," and then goes on to say, "In a world where the only plea is 'not guilty' what possibility is there of an honest encounter with Jesus 'who died for your sins'? We can only pretend we are guilty and thus only pretend we are forgiven. To knife through our pretense, cowardice and evasions, to see the truth about ourselves and the true state of our souls before God--this requires enourmous courage and ruthless trust in the merciful love of the redeeming God. Put simply, sin must be acknowledged and confessed before there can be forgiveness and real transformation" (pp.170-171)
I made reference in yesterday's post to the fact that I was finding some joy in acknowledging myself as a sinner. This acknowledgement really is quite a radical move for me, as it's something I've come to realize that I've put quite a bit of energy into avoiding for much of my life, and for some pretty good reasons. Sarah Dylan Breuer used the term "church-damaged" in a post I was reading today as I was doing some sermon prep. I'd say that kind of captures it. I pretty clearly remember my first introduction to sin. I was eight. In second grade. We were preparing for first communion and we were given a little book that had questions to help us "examine our consciences" to go to confession. Each commandment had a list of questions. The ones against the sixth commandment (Roman Catholic version) were in bold as they were ALL MORTAL SINS. May I tell you as an aside that the sixth commandment is the only one I ever really was sure of numberwise? I knew about the others, sort of....don't kill anybody, or steal anything, or covet stuff...oh yeah and keep the Sabbath was one....hmmm...I know there were more, but that SIXTH, I knew that one! Being an advanced reader, I learned to use the book really quickly. Some kids had a harder time. But we knew that we were supposed to look hard and deep at our little souls to find every possible offensive thing we had done. Because we were, after all essentially BAD by nature. Evil and fallen with that Mark of Cain upon us. Our dead relatives were in purgatory, we were busy praying them out daily, our poor unbaptized babies went to a specially created place called "Limbo" where they did not suffer the fires of hell but did not see the face of God either. God was quick to judge and punish and when we heard about Jesus dying on the cross it was the suffering for our sins and weren't we terrible to inflict that on our precious Lord Jesus? We really did hear a lot about how bad we were, "shameful" and "shame on you" were heard a lot. Perfectly innocent things were demonized into "sin" and, I think in retrospect, some things that were really sinful were ignored.
I don't think any of this was intended to create in me a sense of poor spiritual self-esteem, or make of any of us people who were not inclined toward wanting God to see our authentic selves (likely believing that God would be repelled by them at any rate), but sadly this was the outcome. I carry to this day, despite some pretty strenuous efforts to the contrary, some rather potent voices that, in my shakier moments, throw an ugly wet blanket over the imago dei in me and scream shameful messages so loud in my head that the Still Small Voice of my loving saviour cannot even penetrate.
So one of the true wonders of this Lent really has been this small but steadily growing sense of joy and wonder of finding myself in this position of ruthless trust that Manning talks about. Able to stand before Jesus in radical fearlessness as a beloved sinner and simply say, "Here I am."