Tag Archives: sin

Love – In Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #2

And we are put on earth a little space, 
That we may learn to bear the beams of love
 – William Blake


expulsion 2

Leaving Paradise




face down into

the ground.

Sink into softness

that gives

and for


Come home

to your loamy beginning

and your end.

For your reflection: Recall a time when you fell, took a hard blow, or were brought down by some loss or disappointment. What awareness did you have of your own brokenness and shame?  Could you forgive yourself? What did you learn in your humiliation? How did you change?

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and minds already stuffed with words.

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so, slowly, we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

How the Light Gets In

Weeping before the box, she lifts out the pieces and places them on the counter. All but one or two are broken.
Two weeks before when the boxes arrived, I had carried, heartsick, this one filled with the chink and clatter of broken pottery to the basement. Then I forgot all about the box of broken dreams, until I heard her carrying it up the stairs, shards rattling like a chest of huge coins.
She moves the pieces on the counter, sorting and fitting parts together.
In a distant city another young woman also picks out the ruins of herself from the broken jar of illusion.
So much is broken – plans, relationships, jobs, dreams – and rattles around inside us. We take out the pieces, hold them to the light, and try to fit them together. This confrontation with our fallibility and that nothing earthly lasts forever brings deep suffering. Loss is always more painful than the books can say, the scriptures convey, or the prophets of prosperity preach. We need a picture.
A man at the end of his own dance with mortality, hunched over on his knees in a dark garden, tears rolling down his face. He says to his father, the Heaven Dweller, “Take this cup from me.” And to his friends, “Can you not stay with me one hour in this agony?”
There may be something harder than watching one’s children suffer, but on this day I do not know what it is. The hardest thing I do in this work of ministry, prayer, and listening to souls in their journey to God is staying awake with others in their pain. This is to say, that the hardest thing is staying awake with Jesus as he suffers in others.
Some days I fail. I numb out. I fall asleep. I deny the suffering, blame the sufferer, quibble and become annoyed and irritated with how the person expresses her pain. The other day I thought of one family, “Always lots of drama in this family system.” I suppose, applying the same cynical criteria, one would have to say that Jesus was the all time drama queen.
Can’t you just stay with me in this torment? Can we just be there, trusting God and the soul to figure things out? Respecting the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the awesome autonomy of an individual life, while lifting up the candles of faith, hope, and love seem to be my task.
I fidget. I want to fix things, pass out band aids. Leaning over her shattered treasures, she tries to wire one sculpture back together, fashioning a frame of cardboard.
“We need some glue. I’ll get some glue,” I say. “Let’s go to the store and get some good glue.”
She refuses.
Finally I stop.
Several days later I ask about the box of jumbled shards on the porch. “Oh, I don’t care what you do with it,” she tells me, as she heads off with her eyes on new heights.
To love, to know passion, and bliss is also to have our hearts broken. I know of no way to get around this and anyone who tries to tell you different is a liar. To live, we must die. To touch transcendence and eternity is also to gaze upon and weep over the box of our own finitude, our broken handiwork, our illusions, and limited understanding. “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,” sings Leonard Cohen.
The man in the dark garden gets up. It is time, he says, to be broken.
It is time
for us to be made whole.

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen
Dear Hearts: Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. For fun – A couple of video versions of Cohen’s Anthem.
You Tube: Cohen in concert singing Anthem
You Tube: Photo interpretation of Anthem
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To Err Is Human, To Forgive Divine

This Week’s Puzzler!

Name a three letter word, which will stop a conversation. Say it and watch people avert their eyes, stiffen, and slip away as quickly as possible. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book about whatever happened to it.

You’re right!  The word is sin.

Here is Menninger: But first I must return to the promise to review the events in the recent rapid decline and disappearance of the word “sin,” not because any particular word is so important in itself, but because its obsolescence may be a clue to fundamental changes in the moral philosophy of our civilization. (Whatever Happened to Sin? 1973, p 27)

Thirty seven years later, sin sounds even more archaic. Sin grates against the ear like some antiquated puritanical rant. In a culture with license to say any swear word or expletive one can come up with, the taboo word is, ironically, sin.

Part of this may be due to a trivialization of the meaning of sin and the distortions we bring to it. For many, sin carries negative connotations of judgment, intolerance, hellfire and brimstone. However, sin is not a moralistic judgment. Sin, which is separation from God, is a description of the condition of creation, a condition of alienation and estrangement from our highest good.

Eugene Peterson writes, Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment. The theological fact is that humans are not close to God and are not serving God. The Contemplative Pastor

As reasons for the decline of sin as a category for understanding the human condition, psychiatric nurse, Norman L. Keltner, cites four factors: First, the influence of psychology on our understanding of human behavior. Second, the erosion of personal responsibility.

A third factor is the focusing away from behaviors to one’s feelings about those behaviors. .. The implications of such views were that if individuals could get in touch with their feelings and understand their motivation, then many unacceptable behaviors were acceptable. While not totally devoid of some standard, the overwhelming move to openmindedness blurred the lines. When coupled with the growing philosophical view that right and wrong are better conceptualized as personal values than as community values, tolerance of once frowned upon or forbidden behaviors occurred.

Keltner finds a fourth tendency in our society’s whole notion of individualism. As Robert Bellah and his colleagues (1991) note, “… individualistic achievement and self-fulfillment make it difficult for people to sustain their commitment to others, either in intimate relationships or in the public sphere.” Whatever Became of Sin – Revisiting Menninger’s Question

A world view that includes both God  and sin, assumes that persons are responsible for their behavior, that some behaviors draw us closer to God and other behaviors lead us away.

Without sin as part of our understanding of human behavior, we are left with explanations that fall short and miss the mark of a satisfactory remedy. Without sin we do not need God, Jesus, or that nasty thing called religion. Without sin the crucifixion is just one more state execution and Easter, an interesting ghost story.

Without a serious reckoning with sin, we fashion a god and a religion which suits us, which condones the behavior we want, and urges us to satisfy our desires at others’ expense. The word for this, another taboo word, is idolatry. Without sin, we delude ourselves into thinking that we have accomplished what Adam and Eve were hoping for, when they succumbed to the temptation to disobey and replace God with themselves as sovereign in their lives.

As St. Paul wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we are deluding ourselves and strangers to the truth.” Avoiding the word, does not remove the reality of sin. Denial of sin does cut us off from the remedy – the mercy and grace of God, which free us from the crushing burden of guilt, shame, and having always to be perfect and right.

We, alone, cannot extricate ourselves from the mess of human existence. We can fight about whose fault it is. We can politicize and theorize. We can gather all the brilliant thinkers, artists, and scientists of the world to bring their expertise to bear. We can possess all the wealth of the world, yet we, on our own, cannot save ourselves. We cannot defeat the greed, the lust for power, the envy, the deceit, and the selfishness of the human heart. So we flounder, cry out, slashing at one another, bent over in pain and fear like souls in torment lost in a maze of fun house mirrors.

To see oneself or another as a sinner is like the child telling the obvious truth that the emperor had no clothes. There is wondrous freedom here to be honest about who we are and to be healed and forgiven. As Eugene Peterson writes, “To call a man a sinner is not a blast at his manners or his morals. It is a theological belief that the thing that matters most to him is forgiveness and grace.”

Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org
Contact Loretta at lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross
Become a fan of the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

Beauty and Making Cookies

42-15885238On the afternoon of the day my friend died in a hospital bed in Iowa City, my daughter and I made cookies. In the Kansas kitchen overlooking the finch feeder, while seventeen finch gobbled two pounds of thistle seed (95 cents a pound at Allen Farm and Feed), we measured flour and brown sugar, butter and ginger, and mixed them in the yellow bowl. Patting out the dough on the cookie sheet, we stopped to taste. “Umm, very good!” she said.

There, while she stood on the orange chair with a brown apron hanging to her ankles, I saw for the first time how the smooth curve of her cheek presses against space with such exquisite beauty. 

How is it that we linger for days and weeks over the latest atrocity and evidence that evil is afoot and keeping steady employment? As a nation, we dissect and examine sin and evil from every angle, as we are seduced into complicity through our own fascination with it. We ask the best minds of our day to analyze and respond to iniquity yet rarely consider intently the nature of beauty and how to create and sustain it in our lives and world.

Many seek beauty, but it is more often to possess it than to appreciate it.  As I impose my will on beauty, as I shape and prune it, cage it in my heart, and bow down and worship it with my reason and my money, it becomes a god, something I look to for my well being and satisfaction. Then beauty turns on me with its shrewish demands and shrivels into something harsh and burdensome which sends me off scurrying to polish it, insure it, buy more of it. No more is beauty a source of delight and joy. I have diminished it and myself by my lust, greed, and envy.

A young nurse stammered to tell me of the beauty she had seen last week. “I went for a walk with the dog down by the pond and I have never seen anything like it. After all the rain, the pond was brimming, spilling over the sides. I heard the water roaring through the drainage ditch. I saw God’s power, and everything was so green.” Tears glistened in her eyes.

True beauty is free. Our spendthrift God scatters it with lavish prodigality over the universe. The Trinity ceaselessly dusts us with beauty like pear blossoms sifting in white drifts on the lawn.

Would that we could approach our lives like kids on an Easter egg hunt at dawn – our world drenched with wonder and surprises nestled under every bush. When Moses was on the far side of the wilderness keeping his father-in-law’s flock, he turned aside to see the great sight of a burning bush. What amazes me about Moses is that he turned aside. He stopped doing what he was doing, turned his attention away from his work, and risked letting a sheep wander from his protective gaze, to see why the bush was not burned up. (Exodus 3)

Think of it. The liberation of the Hebrews and the rest of salvation history rested on this man’s freedom to wonder. The capacity for wonder and curiosity are essential to spiritual growth as well as to justice. A lot of prophets and saints knew how to dilly dally, how to daydream, how to poke along and stop and sniff the odd, the curious and find the hidden treasure under the lilac bush. The expectation and consent to be dazzled and amazed set the stage for God’s entrance into our lives.                 

                                    Diana and easter egg

May you discover the courage and grace this day to dilly dally,
to wonder, and to be astonished.



This post is excerpted from a book I wrote, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000. pp 192-194. https://theprayinglife.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php You might like it.