Archive for March, 2022

One of the looms upon which we weave our spiritual lives is our family.  In a real sense we never truly ‘leave our family’ (Consider: the definition of ‘family’ varies from person to person and this is important to remember – I have been a member of a number of different ‘families’ and each continues to impact, if not directly influence, who I am and who I am choosing to become). 

‘Family Life’ is inherently humbling and it is a garden that can provide us the ground for seeding and nurturing the tap roots of spiritual practices and disciplines.  These tap roots enable us to nurture our relationships with ‘family members’ and with others and with our God.  One of these spiritual practices is called ‘Attending.’ 

‘Attending’ is rooted in the Latin ‘tendere’ – ‘to hold.’  Consider these words of Robert Kegan: Not a solution to a problem, the gift of my analytic mind.  Not advice, the gift of my wise experience.  Not reassurance, the gift of my own faith or optimism.  Not even consolation, the gift of my sympathy, but accompaniment, attending to the other’s experience, making known my efforts to understand.

‘Attending’ is one way of being with another person – a gift of ‘presence’ that nurtures both souls.  I am attended to when the other seeks to understand what my experience feels like (we call this ‘empathy’).  I am attended to when the other walks with me as I stumble along on my life’s path – the other walks with me, the other does not attempt to ‘fix me.’ 

I have a good friend that knows me so well that when we are conversing on the phone she will be able to sense when I am not ‘attending to her’ – that my mind is wandering – and she will lovingly ‘call me back’ in order to be present with her.  An admonition and a gift in one ‘package.’ 

When I am at my best I am aware of when I am choosing not to ‘attend’ and when I am not at my best I am susceptible to being distracted and hence it is a challenge for me to ‘attend to’ the other.  If I am awake and aware and paying attention I also notice when I am not attending.  Then, my tendency is to offer, not accompaniment but the more familiar gifts of ‘solutions,’ ‘advice’ or ‘reassurance.’ 

Attending is challenging and, at times, risky for it asks us to set aside our agendas.  Attending also invites us into the realm of uncertainty and imperfection – the realm where we have to admit that we do not have all of the solutions or answers.  To put it another way: Our way of loving might not be the way the other needs to be loved.  How often does our caring actually contribute to the pain we are attempting to prevent or alleviate?  ‘Attending’ enables me to hold the other in tenderness, compassion and empathy and provides me the opportunity to love the other as he or she needs to be loved. 

In the end all that matters is love and friendship. –Robert K. Greenleaf

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This morning, Gentle Reader, we will conclude our brief exploration of ‘Sin.’  Today, we will briefly explore the concept ‘Chet’ and end our search with a few closing observations/considerations. 

Chet.  Rabbi Louis Jacobs tells us that ‘Chet’ is the word for sin that is most common for his faith tradition.  ‘Chet’ means to miss the center of the target.  For example, I have set an intention to do something in some way and I fall short of my intention.  For example, recently a friend called me and wanted me to listen; I intended to listen but found myself trying to ‘help’ – I did catch myself and concentrated on listening receptively.  After 15 minutes or so, my friend  paused, thanked me for listening and we said our good byes.  Too often I have intended to listen receptively to someone and I ended up ‘missing the mark’ as I shifted from listening receptively to fixing or helping.  In doing so I manifested ‘Chet.’ 

These ‘Chet’ moments occur daily – and for some of us too frequently.  Our intentions are good, if not admirable; our actions shift us away from the ‘mark.’  A simple apology or a simple asking for forgiveness generally suffices.  At times, however, our missing the mark causes significant pain – the pain is even more intense because it is not what we intended.  In this case, healing is required. 

Our English language is hampered because we only have one word available to us: ‘Sin.’  Talk about a lack of nuance.  Yet, I think, that like ‘God,’ and ‘Faith’ – words and concepts that have lost their punch for many folks – ‘Sin’ is an important word.  ‘Sin’ and ‘Mercy’ and ‘Compassion’ seem to me to go hand-in-hand.  Other words that have more meaning if ‘Sin’ is admitted include: forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and atonement. 

A deeper internal inquiry might be helpful.  ‘What is my motivation to Sin?’  (I refer to ‘me’ because I don’t believe it is helpful to ask: ‘What is YOUR motivation to Sin?’ in asking this, I might easily miss the ‘log in my own eye.’)  ‘Why is Sin important to the life-story I am writing and living?’  I do know – from experience – that it is easier for me to accept the other(s) as imperfect to the extent I am able to accept myself as imperfect; to accept myself as one who is prone to ‘Pesha,’ ‘Avon,’ Chet’ and ‘Sin’ and to forgive myself (and to seek forgiveness from others). 

As I conclude our brief exploration I offer us the following from Micah 7:18-19:  18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

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We have been thinking about ‘sin.’  In my last entry we briefly explored the concept ‘Pesha.’  This morning we will briefly explore a second concept: ‘Avon.’ I invite you, Gentle Reader to read or re-read the first two entries so that the following might be more meaningful.

Avon.  Avon is rooted in the concept of being twisted or of becoming crooked.  As we travel our life path we hit bumps and pot holes (and craters) and these throw us off of our path – just a bit at first and over time they can send us off in a new direction.  These bumps, pot holes and craters can be part of the external landscape or they can appear in response to an internal miss-alignment.  Avon moves us off-center and this, being a bit off-center, moves us, again, away from our espoused path.  Early on in our life we experience this as a mild shift in direction.  Rather than walking the center line of our life’s path we begin to move toward the edges.  A ‘straight-line becomes crooked’.  Rabbi Louis Jacobs suggests that at times we discover that we have been traveling a crooked path by stopping, stepping back and looking back. 

Sometimes we literally wake up one morning – or an event occurs that suddenly ‘wakes us up’ – and we realize that the path we are on is not the path we sought or the path we imagined ourselves to be on.  This tends to be a bit disconcerting.  There is hope.  We are more likely to ‘stay the course’ if we develop, practice and integrate the disciplines that will help us ‘stay-awake’ and be more intentional and purpose-full as we travel along.  What these disciplines will be will depend upon ‘Who I am’ and ‘Who I am choosing to become’ – they will be ‘self-specific.’ 

We are imperfect human beings and so we will not only be bumped off-center by some externals, we will bump ourselves off-center because of internal miss-alignments.  Because we are, by nature, imperfect human beings it is crucial that we avoid the trap (pot-hole or crater) of ‘being perfect.’  Consistency, not perfection, is crucial.  Re-alignment is crucial.  We will not perfectly ‘walk-the-talk.’  We will, each of us, ‘stumble the mumble.’ 

It can also be helpful to invite others to walk along with us or we can walk along with another.  The trap for each, however, is that my path becomes theirs or their path becomes mine.  We will also meet others along the way who appear to be on a ‘better path’ than ours and this presents us with another trap.  We might develop the illusion (or is it delusion) that their path is ‘better than ours.’  For thousands of years the great wisdom traditions have reminded us (and continue to remind us) that our path is ‘good’ for it is our path. 

The great Japanese sage, Basho, reminds us that: Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.  And the great German poet, Rilke, suggests that: The only journey is the one within. 

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It seems to me that when we use the word ‘sin’ we should cringe a bit (given the context we might do more than ‘cringe a bit’).  Consider, for example, how we humans continue to treat the earth that we have been entrusted with.  I find it difficult to call our environmental damage ‘misdeeds.’  To me they are ‘sins’ and it is important for me to name them as ‘sins.’  It is important for me to say ‘This is not Right!’  As human beings we are gifted with the capacity to forget, to deny, to ‘go to sleep’ and become unconscious AND this does not change the fact that ‘This is not Right!’ – This is a ‘sin.’ 

I am a Christian Ecumenist.  This simply means that as a follower of Christ, I believe in and search for ‘the good, the beauty and the truth’ in all faith and humanist traditions.  In my searching I continue to find them.  The Jewish scholar, Rabbi Louis Jacobs has gifted me with Hebrew words that have helped me understand the nuances of ‘sin.’ 

I have also learned that Jews, some Christian traditions and some Muslim traditions (these three are, together, known as: The People of the Book) do not believe that humans come into the world as sinners.  In each of these Abrahamic Traditions, God said with each creation: ‘This is good!’  This ‘good’ also applies to us human beings.  God also knew that to be fully human is also to do harm to all that we have been entrusted with (read carefully the story of Cain; we are our brothers’ keepers).  God also knew that to be fully human is to have the consciousness and capacity for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing (read the story of Noah). 

Rabbi Louis Jacobs taught me that in Biblical Hebrew there are a number of words that are translated as ‘sin.’  He notes that the ‘differences are subtle but revealing.’  Sins are mindsets that are manifested in actions.  There are three Hebrew words/concepts that help me understand ‘sin.’  I invite us to briefly explore these: Pesha, Avon, and Chet.  Today we will briefly explore ‘Pesha’ and in my next posting we will briefly explore ‘Avon’ and ‘Chet.’

Pesha, Rabbi Jacobs notes, is closely linked to the concept of rebellion.  When Pesha dominates our mindset we seek to set ourselves up as the sole judge of our actions.  One antidote that can help us monitor our tendency for Pesha is to temper our self-judging by asking the other(s) about our tendencies (like pride, impatience, rigidity, envy, etc.).  We ask those who know us the best and we invite them to share their ‘true’ experiences of us. 

I might be thinking that I am doing well when I might be causing harm (to myself or to the other).  For years I considered myself to be one of the most flexible folks in the world.  One day I, with no little pride I might add, asked a close friend to comment upon how flexible I was.  She laughed and looked at me and said, ‘You are one of the most rigid persons I know!’  I was inflexible when it came to certain beliefs I held; I was not open to even considering certain beliefs.  I still struggle with this mindset of ‘rigidity.’ 

Each faith and humanistic tradition contains within itself a shadow-side (as Jung describes the ‘shadow’) and a dark-evil side.  Pesha is a mindset that nurtures this side of ourselves (our individual and our collective selves).  Pesha is a mindset that nurtures our self-pride and at the extreme, our hubris. 

Bill Maher captures the idea of Pesha when he notes: ‘Everything that used to be a sin is now a disease.’ 

The author, Aleister Crowley, also captures the essence of Pesha when he notes: “It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth.” 

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Recently I began to think about ‘Sin.’  My mother was Polish Catholic, my father was English Presbyterian.  As a child, I was taught a ‘lot’s worth’ about ‘Sin’ – perhaps it was ‘two lot’s worth’ I don’t quite remember.   I was also blest with two different types of guilt.  Among a number of powerful values, my father valued ‘truth’ – a good Presbyterian value.  Among a number of powerful values, my mother valued ‘loyalty to the family’ – a good Polish Family/Clan value.  As a child I could ‘sin’ by not telling the truth or by not being ‘loyal’ to the family – I can remember an event when I was eight years old where I had to choose: tell the truth or lie and be ‘loyal’ to the family.  YIKES!!!!  What I did was find a third way: I cried and cried and was not pushed to do either (I have been looking for the ‘third way’ ever since).  My advice to eight year olds who become caught in a conflict of family values is to cry and perhaps your dilemma will be dissolved.  I attended a Catholic University in the early 1960s and things began to radically change for me and my generation and for the generations to follow; one of these changes involved ‘sin.’

For many moderate to liberal faith-traditions absolute patriarchal authority and judgment were radically reframed.  Blame and Guilt no longer had a place on center stage [they did – and continue to – stand off-stage waiting for their cue to return].   The reframe helped many of us begin to heal.  The reframe was also necessary if we were to continue to grow in healthy ways.  The reframe allowed us to begin to seek a balance between the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’  It helped us begin to learn to accept being response-able and responsible from the ‘inside out’ – our inner teacher and inner authority began to be nurtured into life.  Some ‘left’ their faith-traditions – or at minimum did not enter their traditional ‘houses of worship.’  Some of us found our way back to our faith-traditions or we spent time deeply exploring and then learning to honor many diverse faith and humanistic traditions.  We had become disconnected, wounded and not welcomed by the ‘old guard.’  The reframe enabled us to ‘heal’ and reconnect and to be welcomed and to welcome.  Included in the reframing was the reframing of sin (for many sin was simply reframed out of existence). 

For my next one or two blog entries I am inviting us to ‘Think About: Sin.’  For many of us sin has traditionally been deeply connected to a patriarchal religion; in reframing the concept of religion we reframed the concept of sin.  As I noted above, for some, the reframe was so complete that ‘sin’ was softened, if not ‘eliminated.’ 

A great deal has been written about ‘Sin.’  Here are four common definitions of ‘Sin’: (1) transgression of divine law; (2) any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle; (3) any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; (4) sin is any act I intentionally perform that hurts me or another.  As imperfect human beings, then, we will sin; no doubt about it.  We can also choose to attend to the sin we commit – this is called by many faith traditions and humanistic traditions ‘atonement.’  We attend to the hurt that we caused.  This ‘attending to’ involves forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. 

Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us that: Forgiveness is the final form of love. 

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