Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sin, lack, and the world

August 27, Shanghai

I've been pondering, on this trip to China — my seventh of the year — our inward connection to what is real, which is the only thing that can bring a sacred dimension to our experience of life.

 What is real is God; and the inflow connects me to that when it is active. Absent this, there is no real; there is only this construction called “I,” my personality, which is a reflexive creature held hostage by the events of the world and the things it craves. My Being, when it is invested in this part, lacks the properties of compassion and intelligence that human beings professedly value. I talk a lot about these values; but they have no durability and no real existence unless a higher influence inwardly forms what I am.

 If I learn to see anything about myself and I am honest with myself, I know this; if I don’t, I ascribe to myself the power to create and to have compassion and intelligence, never understanding that real compassion and real intelligence are only related to the inward flow of the divine and my relationship to it.

 When that is not with me, I'm helpless.

 Yesterday, after I finished my morning prayer according to the form of Glory, Grace, Mercy, I was touched — as happened a number of times during the day — by the Presence. In each case, it was a light touch meant not to interfere with me or who I am, so it came without  coercion, just as a gentle reminder of the Lord. It is just as though there is an old friend, a deeply loved one who I fail to remember from moment to moment, who touches me on the arm from time to time to reassure me that they are present. When this Presence touched me, I was reminded of the phrase, "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” All of me is indeed of the world; and this gentle Lamb of God, which touches me like an old friend, reminds me of that and of my sin, my lack.

I bring this up because in the moments when the Presence is active, there can be no doubt that I understand in the deepest and most organic sense how I sin; and this is deeply related to the idea of my lack. I pondered this yesterday, because both sin and lack are of the world, and they are united. It occurred to me, in taking in a more comprehensive and organic understanding of this question, that the idea in the phrase, of the world, embodies and enfolds both sin and lack as a single entity.

 Looking up the word sin, I discover it has a relationship to a Latin root meaning guilt. Sin is a lack of responsibility: I am responsible for action that goes against God. By default, this is action that is selfish; I act on my own behalf, not God's, and I think only of myself. We should note here that Emmanuel Swedenborg defined ungodly action in exactly this way; yet when we come to the ideas of Jeanne de Salzmann, and encounter her teachings about seeing our lack, perhaps we don't quite see the connection. 

What I lack, in its most essential form, is responsibility to God. My whole life and my whole being is a sin; and my whole life and my whole being represents the lack. Sin, re-examined and redefined in this manner, is my whole being and all that it is, when it is not aware of and responsible to God. (I pointedly don’t capitalize the word being here, since it represents a lower creature and not the inward Being which has a real quality due to its relationship with God.)

 So my whole life and all that it is is a lack; a sin. It implies both responsibility and guilt, the essential form of sin, because I have not put God first and don't make an effort to dwell within God's will. This is the true heart of sin. It doesn't form itself around the core of my wrongdoing; the wrongdoing comes later, after I forget God. If there is an original sin in myself and in mankind, it begins with selfishness, the failure to see what I am responsible to. I don't know my place. I think my place is in the world and of the world and consists of my responsibility to it; I don't understand that I ought to put God first, and discover responsibility to the Presence of God before I discover responsibility to the world. 

 In this way, my sin is my whole life. Everything. The reason that the Lamb of God taketh away the sins of the world is because it brings me a reminder of the Presence; and in that gentle touch, which is filled with nothing but love, I must always and forever within that moment know of God and my place. No one knows this touch can be mistaken of it; without it, I am bereft of understanding, because the only real understanding is that of God, and my own understanding is as nothing before it.

 Well, this little essay seems to have captured what I was getting at; and I think I will wrap it up here lest it become more complicated that it needs to be. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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