Tuesday, January 10, 2012 — Week of 1 Epiphany, Year Two
William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 943)
Psalms 5, 6 (morning) 10, 11 (evening)
Some questions are compelling and mysterious: Why is there anything rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why is life so hard? Why are we the way we are? Before such questions the sciences meet their limits. Science does a wonderful job answering the “How” questions: How did creation happen? How do we come to birth? How do things grow? But we need to know more. We a compelled to ask “Why?”
Science yields to story. It is our great myths that speak to the most compelling and mysterious questions. When we speak of Mystery itself, when we speak of the Divine, it is story and dance (liturgy) and prayer that communicates most deeply.
Today we read our story of temptation and fall. It is everyone’s story. Why do we live in a state of alienation? Why do we long to be who we are, free and uncovered? Why is there enmity between human and animal? Why is birth so painful? Why must we struggle so to survive? Why do we feel in exile from our true home? Why do we do the terrible things we do?
An anthropologist and psychologist can tell us that the fall into consciousness, the awareness of the self as a separate being, is inevitable in order for one to become truly human. As our consciousness develops, we begin to discover the knowledge of good and evil. Only we discover it before we have the wisdom to know what to do with it, before we are mature enough to choose the good rather than the evil. But a story tells that better, doesn’t it?
Our experience of the fall is every child’s experience: We are born beloved of God, created in God’s image and in an innocent union with the divine. But we do not retain that union. We do not come to self-consciousness with our oneness with God intact. We do not experience unqualified love. Instead, we have frustrated and exaggerated needs and desires, so we take things into our own hands to get what we want. And we are exiled from the garden, from that simple existence of intimacy, openness and trust. We suffer.
The letter to the Hebrews shows us the way home is the way Jesus has shown us. “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” And John the Baptist cries out from the wilderness to “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
The biblical meaning of “repent” is not to feel bad about what you’ve done and promise to do better. In the Hebrew Bible, to repent means primarily to return to God. Return from exile; reconnect with God; walk in the way through the wilderness from Babylon to the Garden. That’s the way home to God. And in the Greek New Testament, the word “repentance” has an additional meaning. The Greek roots combine to mean “go beyond the mind that you have.” Go beyond the mind you have been given, shaped by our fallen human family, and turn to the mind that you have in Christ. Go beyond fallen human consciousness into union with divine consciousness. But theological words are a dry vehicle. Deep truth travels best in stories.
When we tell the story of what went wrong, we tell the story of Adam and Eve. When we tell the story to heal that injury, we tell the story of Jesus.