Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thinking about penitence

I did something that inconvenienced a friend, about a week ago. It wasn’t a huge deal, not hurtful or intentional. But it bothered him enough to tell me about it.

I apologized. His response stopped me in my tracks. He said, “I will always forgive you.”

Today is the second day of Lent. Yesterday, we had ashes rubbed on our foreheads, to remind us just how finite we human creatures are. We read the Litany of Penitence, confessing our own personal sins and those of our species. We were absolved, and assured of God’s gracious help and love. And because we know that we were loved and forgiven before the world began, we celebrated the Eucharist, the feast which proclaims our reconciliation with the Love that creates, redeems, and feeds us all.

I know that my friend loves me, wherever and however I am. That depth of forgiveness was one of the clues. I didn’t feel painfully guilty about the mistake I had made, and I wasn’t beating myself up for it. My apology was along the lines of, oops, sorry, this is how it happened, forgive me. The generosity in his response struck me silent.

“I will always forgive you.” Always. Whatever it is you might ever have done. I love you. This relationship cannot be broken.

I know that he meant it. And I know that humans are fragile. We say things we haven’t thought through. We forget things. We break promises, all the time.

God does not. I don’t think of my relationship with God in terms of penitence. I say the Confession, raising my voice with everyone around me. I mean it, but I don’t wail and gnash my teeth. I ask God for forgiveness, when I know where and how I’ve come up short. I don’t beg for it. Reconciliation is a part of this relationship. I celebrate the gift of this love. Day to day, I’m probably not mindful enough of the weight of it.

God loves us all more than we can ever imagine. Witness: we are alive. My recovery from cancer teaches me all I know about love. Christ’s resurrection means what it means to me, because my own bones vibrate. The work I do in faith is all for justice, inclusion, loving the most forgotten. The core of my relationship with God is in the pulse of my own blood through my veins. All I know about joy, liberation, and power lives here.

But we are in Lent. This is the season for thoughtfulness. This is the time to re-commit ourselves to walking as closely with God as our hearts and minds and bodies ever can. This is the season to discipline ourselves, to open our souls to the work of the Spirit. This is the time to remember who we are as Christians and as humans. This is the time to say out loud, “I can’t do this on my own; please help me.” This is the time to build a shelter in the desert, to remember the sacrifice that came before the feast.

I thank my friend for showing me a glimpse of the God who loves and forgives us always, who holds us close in relationship and who will not let us go. And I thank God for love itself, for life and every blessing.

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