"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us." -- 2 Corinthians 5:16-19
Reconciliation. That is the operative word. According to various dictionaries, it means to restore friendly relations, to resolve conflict, to make compatible two opposing viewpoints. To me, this seems to be the most important task in the world today. We don't have to look very far to find conflict and opposition. We see it everyday, in our own lives and in the lives of people who live far away. We see all too often the tendency to build walls of separation, if not hatred, between individuals and groups. Our own country, especially, seems determined to divide itself into different ideological camps. And yet, we know deep down in our hearts that this can't be right. This can't be what God wants. God, who wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
When we think of our closest relationships, of our relationship with our spouse or our children, we begin to understand the requirements of love. The ties that bind us to those we love the most cannot be easily broken, no matter what comes between us, no matter what transgressions or sins we commit. Why is that? How are these relationships maintained, and others are not?
I read recently in "A Voluptuous God," by Robert V. Thompson, that the word sin is "etymologically linked to the work sunder, which means 'to break apart.' Rather than thinking of sin as a single event like the breaking of a rule, such as a traffic violation, it is more useful to see sin as a condition or state of being in which we see ourselves as literally separated from ourselves, others, and the Divine." (pg. 103) Sin is the opposite of reconciliation. Perhaps that is why the Roman Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation is penance.
Thompson writes about Julian of Norwich, who in 1373 had a revelation of God, during which she asks God about sin. "She was told that we fall into sin not because we are wicked or corrupt, but because we are naive. There is no stain on the soul, we are merely ignorant. We sin, that is, we are estranged from others, because we don't know any better. ... Most importantly, Julian was shown that sin is not something for which we are handed out punishment. The sense of separation and the feelings of alienation are themselves the consequences. We enter into these conditions ourselves. We suffer from within. ...Every failure in relationship to God, every failure in relationship among and between us, is a result of being ignorant to the ways of love." (pg 103)
Thompson gets even more specific: "When we don't know how to live together it is because we don't know how to love each other, or ourselves. ...Every dastardly deed, every abusive action, every greedy, self-absorbed thought, word, and deed is a result of our ignorance. Whether it is a terrorist hijacking or a mundane insensitive oversight, it stems from the same thing: our ignorance as to how to love fully and utterly. There is not a list of Top Twenty sins that God doles out appropriate punishments for. There is only the failure to love." (pg 103-4) Sin is what results when we don't know how to love one another as we should.
So how do we learn to love one another better?
Well, the opposite of separation is unity. So, maybe, instead of seeing ourselves separate from each other, as different from each other, we need to see each other as the same. What is it that we have in common? What do I see in you that I also see in me? Do we have a shared love of God? Do we have a shared love of children? Do we have a shared love for justice? For freedom?
Thompson writes, "Sin is spiritual blindness -- the inability to see you in me, and me in you. This is what Jesus meant when he said the greatest commandment is to love God and everyone -- God in me, God in you, you in me, me in you, God in all of us. Empathy, the seeing you in me and me in you, is the heart of compassion.... compassion heals separation, compassion lessons everyone's suffering." (pg. 105)
We do this, we find paths of understanding, of empathy, with those we are the closest to: our spouses and our children. What would the world look like if we made the effort to find paths of understanding with everyone we met?
Let's try it and find out.
Dear God, thank you for your patience with me, despite my ignorance. It is all too easy to build a wall between me and those who think so differently from me. Help me to see you in them and me in them, and love them as you love me. Love always, Pam