Okay, I know that the title bears some explanation. If you’ve been following my writings at least a little bit, you know that last spring, after a year of agonized questing and trying, I stopped actively looking for a way to “answer” the strong call of Gospel living that I felt and feel on my life. I decided to to stop enrolling, pursuing, managing, forcing, and in general applying my considerable human will to answering that call, and to try a different approach: I did nothing. And, I must tell you, I really did nothing. I haven’t read a book, I haven’t made a plan, I haven’t looked forward — from my viewpoint, I have done absolutely nothing.
And with fall and the start of school all around me, I am feeling the pressure. But I have resisted, for the most part. I have taken up no big projects, and I have only enrolled in one language class (to use the certificate that I got at a charity auction last spring before it expires…honest, that’s the only reason).
Am I happy with this state of affairs? No. No way. Not at all. Am I frustrated? You better believe it. Am I looking for a way out of this waiting state? Did you really have to ask that question? My feet have never felt so nailed to the floor and my path has never seemed less certain (substitute…less under my control).
After surviving the week of earthquakes and hurricanes, and facing the 10th anniversary of September 11, I decided that there would be no harm in putting aside the mystery novels that have occupied me in the days of travel and summer that are now past (thank you so much Laurie R. King and Donna Leon), and pick up something a little more, well, meaty. So, as I trudged my daily two miles on the elliptical trainer, I gazed through the list of books on my Kindle and decided to go back to Sr. Joan Chittitster’s and Dr. Rowan Williams’ Uncommon Gratitude: Allelulia of All That Is, a book I had put down many months ago, for reasons I now can’t remember. It is a wonderful book about remembering how to give thanks for all the things and people in our lives, no matter what their role or purpose there. At least that is the first part of the book, that I had been reading. And, when I selected it from the list and the screen flipped to the last page I had read, I got an answer for my stalemate.
I am a sinner, and well, I guess I didn’t realize it. Not entirely a true statement — of course, on an intellectual level, I realize that I am human and therefore I am a sinner…the words are interchangeable as far as I am concerned. Sr. Joan and Dean Rowan helped me understand just what that means…what it means to be a sinner…and how that dawning realization has led me to a time of complete immobility and malaise. You see, I had been feeling that my inability to take any kind of action, no matter how small, was somehow an act of resistance– resistance combined with fear, resistance to what I was supposed to be doing. Yes, that, my friends, is one of the definitions of sin.
I am a sinner, a good sinner, and I should sing alleluia for that reality.
I keep saying it over and over again so that I can get comfortable using the word (as it is a word that the more progressive amongst us are uncomfortable with). The word itself seems to have at this moment a power to slice through my fog and let me see some light.
Let me share with you the definition offered by these authors that brought me to see that light, even for just a moment. Sin, in their definition, is “just the condition of being seriously wrong about reality and living against the grain. The committed sinner is the equivalent of the person who is convinced that you can make trains run on black coffee and is determined to go on trying, however much the evidence stacks up in favour of the more usual options.” Its not a new definition or even a new viewpoint for me, but it certainly was phrased in such a way that I could not push it to the side and ignore it.
Now, neither I nor they mean to diminish a further examination of what we might more traditionally refer to as sin, or even propose that there is a lack of real evil in the world and in human behavior, and they go on to discuss those conditions and their theology of them in the pages that follow. But in a way, my sin is the worst of all — the sin of ignoring talents and calls that are clearly before me; the sin of failing to embrace who I am called to be.
But being a sinner in Chittester and Williams’s view, results in frustration. Being a good sinner means that you feel that frustration, you know that you are a sinner, and therefore you ask the uncomfortable questions about your relationship to reality that can lead to change.
The good sinner lives in a world of greater possibility and mystery than does the person who has not yet awaked to their sin. The good sinner lives a life of awareness that there is a bigger world than they can see clearly, they recognize when there is a quality of relationship missing with human or divine companion, they know not to give in when the society around them leads them to quiet the doubt and the questions when are their daily friends.
Embracing your inner sinner is the ultimate act of humility. And, at least for me, that act restores a moment of peace and the ability to, as Chittister and Williams suggest, singing an alleluia.
Yes, I am a sinner, a good sinner in fact. Alleluia.