We need to focus on the goal, if we hope to reach it.
Psalm 51 as interpreted by Deborah
O God of my salvation, I need Your fierce forgiveness, the commanding, challenging love that calls forth a response; to stand upright, shake off restraints, and walk courageously in the light; freed from the dungeon of comparisons, the prison of condemnation; the chains of misery, hatred, and fear.
Your steadfast faith alone can release me; for I know that I am less, far less, than I ought to be.
I pick and pull and prod at others’ failings, magnifying their faults that my own will appear insignificant. It is a futile task.
Wash away my petty jealousies and foolish envies, cleanse me from my sins and sulks, my negligence and sloth.For I know my guilt, the time for lies is past.
Against You, You alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight; You’ve every right to condemn me; I deserve no leniency.
Your image, imprinted on my soul, has been blurred, and smudged, and defiled; there is no radiance in me.
Truly, I was born to glory, destined to bless and uplift, to strengthen and sustain. But I ignored Your teachings and scorned Your Path.
Let Your holy Wisdom wash over me; let it fill my mind and my heart.You desire truth in the inward being: honesty to You and with myself; purge me of all lies, deceit, rationales, and excuses, that I may see clearly, fill me with the courage to face remorse, regret and shame, that I may know the healing grace of repentance, and faith in Your forgiveness, then my soul will sing with joy and gladness; my shattered spirit will rejoice.
Look past my sins, and see the good that can yet be.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me, and my life will become a testament to Your Way. Others will see and turn to You.
Eternal One, You have no interest in gifts of gold or silver, silken fabrics or fragrant incense, for all of Creation already belongs to You; the offerings You cherish are hearts and minds and spirits dedicated to Your way.
Give us, O God, the yearning that will lead us to You, the courage to meet You, and the faith to follow You, that we may rejoice in Your presence forevermore.
The sign in the shop filled with tinkling bells and silken scarves and the scent of sandalwood made me smile — and it made me think:
SHOPLIFTING is non-virtuous
and results in
A profound theological truth revealed on an 8” x 10” pasteboard sign!
Although the parallel isn’t exact, the “karma” resulting from non-virtuous conduct is a good description of the effect of sin: it brings trouble! Sometimes the trouble shows up immediately, sometimes it is delayed; sometimes it is disguised …. but it’s there somewhere. Like a scratch in the windshield, a snag in a sweater, a worn spot on the carpet, a chip in a teapot — even if others don’t notice, you will always know it’s there. And, from that point forward, there’s a weakness that may expand and do more damage, maybe even ruin the whole thing.
As for “non-virtuous” — what a great expression! It describes the deepest nature of sin. Rather than a tedious compendium of individual snares and symptoms (greed, deceit, envy, murder, etc.) ranked by severity or degree, it speaks to what sin is not. It non-virtuous, non-compassionate; non-generous; it is non-righteous; it is non-noble. It does no good.
Further, sin is negation: it un-does something worthwhile in us. It detracts and demeans us, eroding our better qualities, eliminating bits and pieces of our honesty, our compassion, our courage, our integrity, our self-respect. Like a termite — or a corrosive acid — chewing away at our souls, sin causes us to be less than we can be.
And, of course, it can expand and do further damage.
“Non-virtuous” also points toward what we ought to do, rather than what we ought not to do. We should be aiming for virtue (what the Bible calls “righteousness”) to do otherwise is to miss the mark, to be less than what we are called to be. Virtue is the goal, and that should be our focus. There is a terrible temptation, otherwise, to dwell on the negative, on that which is ugly and hurtful, rather than emphasizing the good, the healing, the blessing-bearing aspects of our life in faith.
When our attention is focused on sin, we can get so caught up in the dangers and the don’ts that we are distracted from what really matters. It’s like the drivers who crash their cars because they are staring at the remains of an earlier accident and not paying attention to the road in front of them. We need to focus on what’s important: on what we ought to do.
This does not mean that we can ignore or gloss over what went before as if it never happened. Our history bubbles along under the surface, and can pop up unexpectedly, often in ways we do not recognize, and sometimes quite harmfully.
There was a lovely man in my congregation whom I’ll call Bill; he sang in the choir, volunteered with the teen program, visited the homebound, was just an all-round good egg, always ready with a silly joke and a warm smile. When he died, it felt as if we’d lost a beloved uncle. On the day of his memorial service the church was packed, and when it was time for the community to share their memories, a long line formed in the aisle. People spoke of Bill’s many kindnesses, and we learned that he had been in AA for over twenty-five years and had, quietly, supported and encouraged many others in their sobriety. Here was a Christian who had lived as we all should aspire to do; a modest, faithful doer-of-righteousness. As the last speaker finished, a middle-aged man suddenly stepped forward. “I wish I’d known the Bill you’ve been talking about,” he began, “But I didn’t. The Bill I knew was a mean drunk who slapped my mother around and terrorized my sister and me. We were glad when he finally went away….” At that point his voice broke, “Why couldn’t he have been a good man for us?”
Bill had done much work in restoring the divine radiance to his soul, which had been horribly smudged and smeared during his years of drinking; but the residual harm remained — somehow unhealed, in his first family. Our actions have consequences. Sometimes what has been done cannot be mended.
Our lives are influenced by our past actions, decisions, and experiences, but we have the ability to move beyond what was into What May Yet Be. Our past affects us, but it does not define us — unless we allow it to do so.
Bill could have remained “a mean drunk,” but he chose not to continue along that path — not by denying that he was an alcoholic, but by admitting it to himself and to others; and by pursing the Way that leads to the Light. Freed from what he had been, turning away from the bars and the booze, Bill focused on living a full and meaningful life.
Wisdom is the holy, transforming grace that turns What Was from an obstacle into a stepping stone, a problem into an opportunity, timidity into courage, conceit into humility, hard-heartedness into compassion. It is derived from faith in God’s power and mercy combined with fierce personal honesty — no lies, no rationales, no excuses, no pointing fingers at those “worse than” ourselves; a fearless confrontation with the disturbing truth of our own flaws and failings, our maneuverings and misdeeds, and outright wrongdoing — brought before the Lord to be healed and transformed.
In Your mercy forgive what we have been,
help us to amend what we are,
and direct us to what we shall be;
that we may do justly, love mercy,
and walk humbly with You, our God.
We can choose to admit that we have missed the mark; that we have done what we ought not to have done, and not done what we ought to have done. In truth, not one of us has cause for sanctimoniousness or smugness, nor for envy. No one. And we can choose to accept what may yet be: opening ourselves to the radiant possibilities within us. In the light of Divine forgiveness, our spirits refreshed and our souls restored, we can freely follow the Lord, and grow beautifully in grace and truth.
May the God of love and power
forgive us and free us from our sins,
heal and strengthen us by His Spirit,
and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord,
Choose wisely, and keep your eyes on the goal.