In the religious tradition in which I was raised, the topic of “sin” was readily accessible and never far from ones mind. It was because of sin – original sin to be exact, that we needed the redemptive action of Christ. Baptism was said to remove the stain of this original sin so that we could once again be worthy of God. Through reception of the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, we were forgiven for the sins that we had committed since the baptismal purification. And….the devil was sure to be lurking around every corner waiting to tempt us into committing another sin for which we may or may not be forgiven, ever insuring our need for the intercessory role of the Church against the ever vengeful “God” sitting in heaven, with clipboard in hand, keeping track of whether we were naughty or nice and whether or not we would be welcomed to enter by the pearly gates or plunged into the pits of hell.
Since embracing the contemplative life, I have come to a more compassionate perspective on the nature of sin. This perspective, based on the central grace of contemplation is the recollection of our original nature as One with God. It was this truth that Jesus came to reveal and it was this truth that he prayed about in his final hours with his friends:
Jesus prayed, “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you love them even as you loved me.” John 17:22-23
In his human journey, Jesus had come to full recollection of the truth of Oneness with God and it was this truth that he prayed his disciples would realize and share with those to whom they would eventually minister. What Jesus had come to understand and came to reveal is that we are One with God and thereby one with eachother in love. In this state of Oneness, we have never been separate from God, never banished, never alienated, never alone. Unfortunately, most of us have forgotten this truth and instead live within the illusion of separation from God. It is this perceived separation that is the source of human suffering and creates within us a state of constant longing, anxiety and loneliness. That which we have come to call sin arises out of this unnatural state.
Sin, when looked upon from this perspective, is merely a symptom of this unhealed illusion of separation. This perception of separation causes a longing within us that we seek to satisfy which then leads to our compulsive human behaviors. Gluttony, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth and pride are the common names given to these compulsions. When we engage in these compulsive (sinful) behaviors, we are merely acting out of this false perception of separation. Healing this false perception is then the key to ceasing from engaging in these unhealthy behaviors.
Understanding the nature of sin in this way, allows us to step out of our normal judgemental attitudes and embrace an attitude of compassion. Sin is not the cause but the result of a wound in need of healing. As we work toward being open to allowing this wound to be healed within us, we find it no longer necessary to indulge our compulsions. As we grow in our ability to remember this state of Oneness and return to our original nature as peaceful, loving and compassionate, we are able then to be a mirror for others who seek also desire to be healed. Embracing contemplation is the vehicle which facilitates this process of recollection and healing.
As you move forward in your journey today, I would invite you to reflect on those places in your life where you have forgotten your Oneness with God and what are the behaviors and suffering that you have experienced as a result of this false perception? How can you be open to allowing God to help you heal this false perception so that you can return more fully to your original nature as peaceful, loving and free?