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Don’ts and Don’ts

Don’ts and Don’ts

Friday, January 10, 2014 – Week of 2 Christmas, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 138, 139:1-17(18-23) (morning) // 147 (evening)

Jeremiah 23:1-8

Colossians 2:8-23

John 10:7-17

The easiest way to manage a moral life is by maintaining a list of do’s and don’ts. Items on the “do” list are ethical and beneficial to ourselves and others. Items on the “don’t” list are prohibited as destructive or transgressive of some moral norm. We try to practice the do’s and steer clear of the don’ts.

But today’s reading from the letter to the Colossians approaches the moral life of a Christian in a very different way. This brief passage asks us to scrap a lot of items on our list of don’ts, and to replace them with a few don’ts that are much more effective at protecting our souls from condemnation.

The author asks incredulously why on earth Christians “submit to regulations,” such as “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.” These broad sensual categories probably cover a lot of specific “don’ts” in our lives: don’t eat this, don’t drink that; don’t listen to this, don’t look at that; don’t embrace this, don’t touch that.

Yet, according to the passage, these regulations are human in origin. They have “an appearance of wisdom,” insofar as they produce “self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body.” Following a rigorous list of don’ts will certainly help us project an image of wisdom, piety, humility, and discipline. But these regulations are “of no value in checking self-indulgence.” They make impositions on our bodies without touching our souls.

The alternative “don’ts” offered by this reading from Colossians are very different. The two commands that start with “do not” have less to do with our own behavior and more to do with our responses to other people—especially to people who hold religious authority.

First, the author says, “do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.” Soon afterward, the author says, “Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels . . .” A major challenge of the moral life seems to be protecting ourselves from the voices of condemnation and rejection that surround us.

Which list of don’ts should we allow to guide us today? The don’ts that tell us what not to taste and touch? Or the don’ts that shield us from the world’s qualifications, regulations, and requirements?

Don’t let anyone condemn you. Don’t let anyone disqualify you. And don’t submit to regulations that punish our bodies and our senses but are ultimately useless in leading our hearts beyond ourselves.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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