Archive for sin

The land of Wandering, east of Eden

Cain and Abel, Ivory, c.1084 Louvre OA 4052 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cain and Abel, Ivory, c.1084
Louvre OA 4052
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge image


Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”  Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 4:1-16

Have you ever heard a sermon preached on this scripture? I’m not sure I have, but I’d like to. The more I look at this passage the more complicated and interesting it becomes. I know I’m not alone in this fascination. John Steinbeck and many rabbis have spent time thinking about it. Bruce Springsteen points to it. There’s even a reference in the game Batman: Arkham City. Perhaps we should take a look. There’s more to Cain and Abel than “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Much of what interests me about this story has to do with language and double meanings. Before we dig in, you need to know that a few chapters back in Genesis, Adam (whose name carries linguistic associations with the words “man” and “red” is created from the red earth (adamah). Man and earth are interdependent. Adam and Eve care for the garden and live on its produce, but after the Fall, the earth is cursed and Adam’s relationship with it becomes a struggle. The consequences of sin are not borne by Adam and Eve alone. God says to Adam:

…cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
In the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.

from Genesis 3


When we come to the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, Cain, the tiller of the soil, becomes angry when God rejects his offering in favor of his younger brother’s firstlings. Cain lures Abel out to a field, where he kills his brother. The ground opens its mouth and receives Abel’s blood from Cain’s hand, but the earth cannot conceal the crime. God asks, “Where’s Abel?” and receives Cain’s insolent answer. Abel’s blood cries out, and the earth also speaks in a manner, with a curse. Having opened its mouth to take in blood, the ground will no longer produce food:

you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. 

Cain’s sin and his curse are built on his father’s. Cain’s relationship with the earth becomes so broken that he must wander, a fugitive from Eden. He is separated from the land of his birth, and he must leave God’s presence. Yet, even in exile, Cain is under God’s protection. God’s reach, his mercy, extends beyond Eden, into the land of Wandering (Nod).

There’s much more to tease out of this story. So much we could talk about. I wonder why some translations say sin is “crouching” at the door (which sounds like it is ready to spring) while the KJV and RSV say sin “lieth at the door” or is “couching” (which sounds less like an attack and more like sin has taken up residence). And what about after Cain leaves Eden? The Bible says he gets married and has a son, and then he and his wife build the first city, Enoch. How are we to think about cities, if they came into being because sinful Cain can no longer farm the earth? And why then do we long for Zion, the heavenly city, and not for a return to the Garden? What happens when we return to the dust from which we were taken?


Zion alt

Political World



What is the Unforgivable Sin?  

I suspect that for many people, that question is the first theological issue they tackle. It was certainly a topic for discussion among my middle school peers. We’d heard this phrase “the Unforgivable Sin” and the idea that there could be any sin so bad that God wouldn’t or couldn’t forgive it was mind-blowing. What could it be? Of course, it never occurred to us to look in the Bible, so we just talked about it. Usually we decided that it must be suicide–figuring that if you were dead you couldn’t ask God to forgive you and that was the crux of the problem.

The question is a good one, but middle-school theology is about as reliable as middle-school explanations of sex, so having reached adulthood, let’s take a look at the two places in the gospels that mention this sin. You’ll find it in Matthew 12 and Mark 3. I’ll excerpt from Mark:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.”  And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.  And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Hero′di-ans against him, how to destroy him….

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-el′zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”  And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.  But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—  for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

When Jesus heals people in the gospels, those actions are called “signs.”  That word is important, because the purpose of these acts of power is to indicate the source and nature of authority. Signs are proof that someone speaks for God. They point to God, not to the power of the person who performs the act, which is why people glorify God and not Jesus after these signs. Think about Moses asking God “How am I going to convince the people that You sent me?”  Think about the passage in 1 Corinthians 1 “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom” where Paul contrasts the various types of proof.

In Mark and in Matthew the scribes and the Pharisees see the signs of Jesus’ authority and the Holy Spirit’s actions and they are not confused. They know this is God’s work. But their hearts are hard, and knowing it is the Spirit, they name it Satan. And that’s their sin.

Calling the Spirit evil is blasphemy, but it seems to me that there’s even a bit more to the story than that. The Pharisees and the scribes are turning spiritual matters into political ones–and by “political” I mean issues of power and control. What they want most of all is to retain their own authority and power, and so they will not yield even to God. They would lie about the nature of God (and it is a lie, for they are learned) rather than lose control.

We could stop there, feeling superior, and then move on some other theological question, but I want to linger a moment, and think some more about that rhetorical move: the use of the spiritual for political purposes.

These are dangerous times. All times have their dangers, but just as they did in the first half of the twentieth century, there are people today seeking to impose their will on the rest of the world through violent means. It’s terrifying.

I came to understand more about one aspect of these struggles through an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. Terry Gross interviewed Maajid Nawaz, a most insightful and articulate man. Nawaz became an Islamic extremist at the age of 16, but by profound study and contemplation while imprisoned, and by considering George Orwell’s Animal Farm, he came to believe that the creation of a theocratic utopia was impossible. He is now the co-founder of a think tank called Quilliam, which is dedicated to countering extremist beliefs.

In the interview, Nawaz explains clearly the difference between an Islamist and a jihadist, and also the logic behind what seem like inexplicable actions to those of us living in democratic societies. Though they differ in their methods, both the Islamist and the jihadist believe that a theocracy must be established–that spiritual power must be made into earthly political power in order to preserve their religion and do the will of God.

Now in these dangerous times, the President of the United States spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast about the two sides of faith. His remarks were immediately greeted with outrage by people who would have criticized him no matter what he said.  No surprises there, but this time the nature of the criticism hit me in slightly different way. It reminded me of the Pharisees and the Islamists and the other religious people in history who have believed that their understanding of the Divine (or whatever they call the Nature of Reality) must be The Understanding for the world. Those people talk about protecting religion, but it’s really about politics and power–and not even religion’s power, but their power. The Romans set out to conquer too, but they were at least honest about their motives.

So having wandered our way from middle school to the present day, where have we arrived? What have we learned? How then do we live?

…how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religion for their own murderous ends? 

…as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends.  And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom — freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.

President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast


Spots and wrinkles on social media

Brother URL greets you The Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Brother URL greets you
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert


I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time. Writing it feels sort of like telling a friend their breath is bad. You could just let it go, but they really need to know, and it’s better to hear it from someone who cares.

Over the past few years, a lot of clergy and denominational staff have discovered social media and embraced it as a communications tool. You can now read the postings of pastors, bishops, news services, seminaries, and historical societies. And these church professionals are just like everyone else, with learning curves and subsequent successes and failures. They deserve to be cut a certain amount of slack. But the Church as a whole is far enough along the path of digital engagement that we can stand some self-examination, and I see some behaviors that make me uncomfortable.

Of course, there are many wonderful, inspiring people and ministries online. There are people of good will and great faith. Unfortunately, our human failings are also quite visible, and even amplified online, and when those failings are manifest by Christians, our ministry to the world suffers. We form cliques and echo chambers; we are prideful and self-promoting; we lack hospitality and genuine openness.

The world wide web is not just a communications tool; it is a channel for the Spirit where we can unite the Church and welcome those who do not yet know God. It is a space for connection, for outreach, for prayer, prophesy, and forgiveness. It is the world.

And so I ask a difficult question:

Does your online presence witness to the unity of the Spirit or does it promote your ministry, your denomination, your causes? 

I doubt the answer will be simple. We all have our own work to do. We all seek our own tribe. Leaders are accustomed to leading–to being “on” whenever they’re in a public space.

But if the Church and her clergy could lead by example, and manifest online that love that binds us all in Christ, our witness would be strengthened. Small changes would make a difference.

Here are a few questions that may help us think about the degree to which we help or hinder the Spirit’s work online. I hope it will stimulate thought and increase mindful practice within the Networked Church, that blessed company of faithful people.


As we each consider our habits and practices online, we might ask…

1) Do I ever look at the posts that appear in my Facebook news feed or do I only go to my own timeline?

2) Do I follow anyone on Twitter who is not of equal or higher ecclesiastical rank?

3) Do I follow anyone who is not at least as well-known or popular as I am?

4) Do I follow anyone from another denomination?

5) Do I ever share anything about another denomination and cite it as exemplary?

6) Do I ever hold a conversation on social media or do I only offer my opinion and pronouncements? Do I listen and respond as well as speak?

7) Is there anything I can do to increase my sense of others’ humanity in the virtual world? Is there anything I can do to support individuals I meet on social media?

8) Am I humble? Am I thoughtful? Do I appear online as a learner as well as a teacher?

9) Do my postings ever deride or ridicule another person?

10) Do I know why I am on social media?

Treachery, violence, Epiphany


Godfather Michael Corleone


…your hands are defiled with blood
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies,
your tongue mutters wickedness.

No one enters suit justly,
no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.
They hatch adders’ eggs,
they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
and from one which is crushed a viper is hatched.
Their webs will not serve as clothing;
men will not cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
and deeds of violence are in their hands….

Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands afar off;
for truth has fallen in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. (from Isaiah 59)


Sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it. (Genesis 4: 7)


Holiday time is movie time at my house, and this season, along with other more light-hearted fare, we watched a number of organized crime stories. You wouldn’t think that The Departed and The Godfather would prepare a person for Epiphany lectio divina, but I found that they did. The machinations, the treachery, the lying, the violence, and the vulnerability of anyone who tries to walk away from evil–it starts with Cain and Abel and never stops. That beautiful star heralding the Christ Child shines in a darkness of Herod’s vicious, ruthless ambition. Mary marvels, Rachel weeps. It’s never simple. It’s never easy. The ugliness and pain are so intense, betrayal so frequent. “Who can you trust?” “No one.” 

Which is why I cling to the Christmas miracle–that subversive intervention in human history: God incarnate as a child (!) come to show us a way out of this mess.


We look for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope for the wall like the blind,
    we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
    among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
We all growl like bears,
    we moan and moan like doves;
we look for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us. (Isaiah 59)


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.


Mercy without justice is not mercy

StCathApse-MosesLaw400h (1)


I learned something about God the other day because of Vladimir Putin. Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center was talking about Putin’s promise to grant amnesty to about 2,000 people arrested for anti-government protest, including some very high profile political prisoners. Pretty much everyone in the world realizes that this was a cynical, calculating, theatrical gesture, but Lipman pointed out that the problem with Putin’s magnanimity goes much deeper than feigned emotion. The problem is that what looks like mercy on the surface is really something else entirely.

Lipman said, “Mercy is maybe complementary to justice, but mercy cannot replace justice, and this only emphasizes the fact that in Russia if you fall victim to injustice and unfair treatment, it can only be the will from above that can rescue you.”

Mercy cannot replace justice.

Why not?

Most Christians I know struggle a bit with the idea of sin and obedience.  We are much more comfortable with verses like “all things are lawful” and “God is Love” than something like “the wages of sin is death.”  We acknowledge human sinfulness, we confess plenty of sins ourselves, but in our heart of hearts, a lot of us have trouble coming to a comfortable place with the idea of God punishing people.

Why can’t we just have God is Love? Why can’t we go straight to Forgiveness without wandering around for years in the wilderness of Justice?

I think it’s because mercy without justice is arbitrary. It’s whim. It restores nothing. It’s an exercise of power. And how can you have a loving relationship with someone whose actions are always only about power?

I suspect that justice–which is a smaller thing than God–is another one of those instances of God’s restraint: a pathway to understanding, in a small way, something about God that would overwhelm us if revealed in its entirety. Justice is a cleft of the rock where we are put for our protection while God’s glory passes by. Justice is about boundaries, while Love has no end.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly. Maybe, if we can get our heads around earthly justice, then we can tackle mercy, and perhaps someday move on to divine justice and mercy, and maybe even Love.


Caught between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Charlie Chaplin: The Circus


He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14


This parable is a trap. A wonderfully constructed, well-laid trap.

Because the first temptation is to think, “God, I thank thee that I am not like the Pharisee,” but then we’re revealed as self-righteous. And as soon as we feel good about NOT saying “I thank thee that I am not like the Pharisee” then again, we’re self-righteous. Clearly the parable points towards the tax collector, but like a person baffled by a hall of mirrors, we see the tax collector but cannot reach him. We’re trapped by endless reflections of the self.  How can we find our way out? How can we escape?

I think the answer is to look only at our relationship to God. That’s the real difference between the Pharisee who compares himself to others and the tax collector who cries, “Be merciful to me!” We get distracted when we look at others to see ourselves. Only in God’s light will we see the truth of our sins and know ourselves even as are known.

Betrayed by the Church

Photo credit: Tybo


It is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to hold sweet converse together;
within God’s house we walked in fellowship.

Psalm 55:12-14


Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice.  

Philippians 1:15-18



The Church will make you crazy. Really. She’ll break your heart. If you care deeply about the the Church–or any particular congregation–there’s a good chance that someday you will pull out your hair and say in astonishment, “I can’t believe this is happening in a church!”

I’m not saying that Christians are naive. We know what people are like and we know what they’re capable of, and out in the world that knowledge is armor from the slings and arrows and plain stupidity and meanness that come our way.  But at church… At church, we were hoping for better; hoping to see the good that people are capable of strengthened and motivated by love for God and neighbor; hoping to be part of a community–working out our differences, striving to do God’s will. That’s what we’re hoping…

…and then one day something happens, and it all looks like just another power struggle and a pack of lies.

It’s especially painful and damaging when the people behaving badly are clergy.

“I thought you were going to help me to learn about God, and this is what you show me!? This is what He’s like?!” 

It feels like betrayal, like moral injury–which is why it’s so damaging and why the damage is long-lasting. And unfortunately we’re not always clear on who’s betrayed us–the clergy person or God?  When that happens, people don’t just switch churches, they leave The Church. They lose their faith, or get disgusted by it and throw it away.

A lot of dear, loving Christians have been deeply hurt by the Church.  Truth to tell, a lot of ministers and priests have been deeply hurt too. Not just upset because they didn’t get their way, but wounded and scarred, betrayed and abandoned. It’s not something Christians talk about much. It’s ugly and difficult. And even if it’s not a newsworthy scandal, people within the power structure of the institutional Church will sometimes protect their own or ignore the problem. Do damage control. Circle the wagons. Obfuscate. Think, “If we wait long enough, the problem will go away.” Because, at times, the Church behaves just like the police, the military, government, schools, and business–constructing its defenses so tightly that even the Holy Spirit would have trouble getting in.

And yet, Christ loves the Church. And forgave us. All of us. From the Cross. And somehow, he uses this crazy, flawed, sinful group of people to proclaim his gospel.  It’s really quite astonishing. You think he’d find some better tools.

Perhaps we need to talk more about the injuries we suffer, and those we visit upon one another. Perhaps that would bring greater healing and forgiveness, and perhaps some repentance and reform. I don’t know. But I know that Christ suffered betrayal and did not give up on us. Perhaps that’s the place to start.


“The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization, needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.”

–Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, October 27.






Hands and feet: St. Jerome and the Lion


On a day towards even Jerome sat with his brethren for to hear the holy lesson, and a lion came halting suddenly in to the monastery, and when the brethren saw him, anon they fled, and Jerome came against him as he should come against his guest, and then the lion showed to him his foot being hurt. Then he called his brethren, and commanded them to wash his feet and diligently to seek and search for the wound. And that done, the plant of the foot of the lion was sore hurt and pricked with a thorn. Then this holy man put thereto diligent cure, and healed him, and he abode ever after as a tame beast with them.

From “The Golden Legend ,” by Jacobus de Voragine, a medieval compilation of stories about the saints


On a recent trip to Madrid I was captivated by this painting of St. Jerome and the Lion in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Usually the lion appears as an attribute of Jerome based on a story found in the medieval bestseller, The Golden Legend. Here the lion is more than an identifier, and the saint’s relationship with the creature is the focus of the composition.

I love the artist’s gentle juxtaposition of hands and paw, expressing kindness, affection, and blessing. And I love the lion’s face, looking out into the distance as if in contemplation, with just the hint of a smile. It’s as if we are witnessing a moment of understanding between a man and his animal companion.


The story of the Jerome and the lion is interesting and multifaceted. It begins like the tale of Androcles and the lion as an example of charity overcoming fear and of kindness repaid. In this version, however, the lion is referred to as a “guest” (and thus a recipient of hospitality) who then becomes a sort of brother in the monastic community. The lion is given responsibilities reflecting his new nature and according to his abilities–he is to tend and guard the monastery donkey. When the animal is stolen while his guardian sleeps, the lion is falsely accused of having eaten it, which is to say, of not having a true conversion and yielding to the sin of gluttony. The lion is punished and shamed by being forced to take on the work of the ass, and the author notes, “he suffered it peaceably.”

Thankfully the story has a happy ending. Eventually the lion finds the stolen ass, brings it back, and is forgiven.

And then the lion began to run joyously throughout all the monastery, as he was wont to do, and kneeled down to every brother and fawned them with his tail, like as he had demanded pardon of the trespass that he had done.

How curious and fitting that the lion’s nature makes him both run joyously and demand pardon!  And because of the lion’s righteous ferocity, the thieves also come before Jerome to ask pardon. The saint does not take all their valuable oil, though they offer it as penance, but tells them to “take their own good, and not to take away other men’s,” and so debts are paid, sin is forgiven, and community is restored.

Which bring us back to the painting–so different from the many other pictures of St. Jerome–a painting about more than the holiness of a saint. A painting about a saint and a lion. Surely it is no accident that hands and paw should tell this tale and bring to mind those virtues of hospitality, humility, and forgiveness present in other stories we know so well: the washing of feet, the suffering of shame, the blessings of community.



I. Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.


II. Si iniquitates observaveris


Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit? Quia apud te propitiatio est;

If thou wilt mark iniquities, O Lord, O Lord, who could stand?  For with Thee there is forgiveness 



III.  A Hymn To God The Father – John Donne


Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.


Good gifts turned to evil

The tragedy of sin is that is diverts divine gifts. The person who has a genuine capacity for loving becomes promiscuous, maybe sexually, or maybe by becoming frivolous and fickle, afraid to make a commitment to anyone or anything. The person with a gift for passionate intensity squanders it in angry tirades and, given power, becomes a demagogue.

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk.


The story of the Fall is the story of created good turned to sorrow and evil. So many of our sins are this way, a good thing pushed too far or turned to selfish purposes. Our desire to protect someone becomes a drive to control them. We squander God’s abundance and it becomes waste. Our capacity for imaginative play becomes twisted with hatred and turns into torture.

If sin were only an invader, an isolated tumor that we could just cut out, it would all be so much easier.  Painful still, but clear. Instead, we find that to know ourselves and our sins we have to consider them, and understand the place in our journey where we turned aside. It’s hard work to comprehend this complicated mix of actions and motivations, and the good that remains can become yet another temptation to excuse it all and let it be.

But we cannot let it be. We will all be changed, but we must change ourselves too.