In the first part of this article I talked about shame and how we’re carrying so much of it, and that it is the root of sin. Not in some old clichéd Catholic sense, where we come from some original bad stock.
We’re ashamed because we’re struggling to find the courage to step out and show the world just how fucking good we are.
This is the greatest sin of our times.
To turn away from what is asked of you – the true work you know you came here to make. To pretend it isn’t that important, or that you’re not good enough to be it. And we’re struggling to face this great sin, because the very notion of sin is something we’re no longer comfortable with.
But just as the toothache doesn’t go away because you don’t like dentists, sin doesn’t go away because we don’t like the Church.
And because we have banished sin, we have also banished the means to work with sin. We have forgotten that there is an ancient tradition that can guide us through this gauntlet of shame, guilt and unworthiness.
This is the lost technology of spiritual transformation. And it is what this article is all about.
We’re all sinners
Not the way we were told when we were children. No, we’re all sinners because this is a time like no other. A time when the old rules really are crumbling to dust. We have more freedom than at any other time in the history of the world.
We’re free to have sex with people we want to have sex with, without the fear of roasting forever in hell. We’re free to write and speak whatever we want without the threat of being burned at the stake. We’re free to rise above our upbringing without social castes to slam us back into place. We’ve even been freed from the industrial imperative to be efficient, safe and predictable. We’ve been freed to speak the deepest truth we have.
This is the age of the great level playing field.
And God is calling for all great people to come and play the new game. The one where we win when we each create our own beautifully unique puzzle piece of life. And together, we create a new picture of society.
And when we inevitably pretend to not hear that call, we sin.
“Who the fuck am I to start a global foundation for women leaders? I don’t even feel like a leader myself. It’s just a pipe-dream. Life is more complicated.”
“I may have a passion for mystic muff diving, but I can’t make a living out of that! That’s crazy! I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and hope one day I’m rescued.”
“Just because I dream of writing best-selling books, doesn’t mean I can, or am allowed. That’s for the talented people, who live of mummy and daddy’s millions.”
It’s easier to numb out. So we do, and God’s call becomes like the buzz of the refrigerator, and we continue for years pretending it’s not there.
But it’s not that simple is it?
You block your ears, so you don’t hear the call. And then you don’t hear other stuff either. You don’t hear your friends telling you how talented you are. You don’t hear your lover telling you how beautiful you are.
So you block your heart too. Because it’s too much. And then you block your balls and your pussy too.
And then you’re a drone. Doing society’s bidding. Being a good soldier. While you quietly die inside.
And maybe I’m being dramatic. And maybe it hasn’t got that bad yet. And maybe it never will. But what if it already has, and we haven’t noticed, because we can’t even feel how numb we are.
And I’m numb too. I’m as big a sinner as you are.
This is written for both of us. I’m not preaching from a position of privilege. I’m writing this because I’m calling myself out. And maybe you at the same time
And I’m writing it because there is a way out.
Repent, and ye shall be set free
“When they said repent. I wonder what they meant.”
– Leonard Cohen
And well you might Leonard, because it’s another confusing term, like sin. But repentance is the way out. And as Robert Frost said, the best way out is through. And repentance takes you through shame, into love, into integrity, into deeper truth.
But I get ahead of myself. What is repentance?
Repentance usually means regret. When I repent I feel deeply sorry or remorseful.
“I’m really sorry Mrs. Jones. I didn’t mean to crush your prize rose bed.”
But this meaning is only half the story. Once again, we have a translation issue, though this time it’s the issue of Greek into English.
The Greek world that was translated into ‘repentance’ in English was the world metanoia. Which means something rather different than regret. Let’s play detective for a second, because it’s going to get interesting.
Metanoia has two elements. Meta means ‘beyond’, or ‘change’. And noia comes from noos which means ‘thought’ or ‘mind’. So it essentially means to ‘go beyond one’s thoughts’. It means to change one’s mind, change one’s way of seeing, to go beyond how you thought it was.
This is the original meaning of repentance.
And it is also the very subject of this article. The practice of repentance is the lost technology of spiritual transformation.
Connect with truth, and step beyond
Repentance is the decision to turn back toward what is asked, and engage honestly and truly. To repent is to surrender your insecurity and shame, and face what you know you are avoiding.
Repentance is coming back into right relationship with truth. And it has four steps, which I’m going to lay out for you.
Confession. Forgiveness. Penance. Restoration.
Now, we’re going to run into language issues again. I’m going to use words that may have strong connotations for you. But just like Sin, and repentance itself, I’m going to invite you to cast off the meanings you were given, and feel into the primordial meanings, the original meanings, before they were distorted by time.
Because this model of repentance represents a beautiful mapping of a natural cycle, one that is designed to deepen the bonds of what matters, and what is true. It is a process that transforms shame into guilt, into connection, into intimacy, into new action, into new depth, into new truth.
This is not a formula. It is a dance of karma, intimacy and dignity.
The Four Steps of Repentance
Confession is sharing the thing you don’t want to share. It’s calling your best friend and admitting that you’re really struggling. It’s telling your lover you’re feeling attraction for someone else. It’s praying to god because you feel so lost.
It’s the sharing of burdens, a friendly shoulder upon which to rest, as you confess your difficulty. And it works. It’s what all good therapists do for their clients, what great parents do for their children.
It is a place to reveal our deepest secrets in safety.
Brené says that shame can’t survive with words around it. She says shame needs 3 things to survive: secrecy, silence and judgement. And that the moment we share the object of our shame, the virus starts to whither, and the heart begins to open.
This is sharing. This is confession.
This is the first step.
I was born to do magnificent and important things in the world.
I know it. But to confess how deeply I feel this destiny is to also uncover the deep shame I carry for not knowing how to live into that greatness. And the deep fear that I may be mistaken, and delusional.
“You could touch a million souls” the whisper says to me.
And it’s getting louder.
“You’re one of the old souls that lived a thousand lives and opened a thousand hearts. You were there, when we stepped out of the Garden. You were there when we spoke on the mountain. You were there after they hanged him. Don’t you remember?”
Am I crazy? Something tell me I shouldn’t we writing this. But it feels like a relief to get it off my back. To share it with you. To confess to you.
I love you, and I forgive you. I know you’re trying your best. I know you’re a good and beautiful person. I know you don’t mean to. I love you. Everything is ok.
This is empathy. And compassion. It’s universal love.
Regardless of what you do, I still love you. There is nothing you can do or be that would stop me loving you. You have no choice in the matter.
They said Jesus will forgive you all your sins, and they said it because Jesus represents the force of this universal love. And in His heart, you are always already forgiven.
It’s what we need from others, from God. And it’s what we need from ourselves. Self-love, the first love. Because it’s all the same love. It is This Love.
I know you. I love you. I forgive you.
This is step 2.
My sweetheart, I understand.
You want to stay safe, hidden, in the dark warm folds of familiarity. Of course you do sweet man. They told you this was the way to live your life. That’s what kept you safe in the school playground when the other kids would tease you for your difference. And in another time, when they killed you for your insolence.
You are my sweetheart and I love you. You have such pure intentions. I’m always here for you ok? I know it’s not going the way you want. The way your father wants. But you don’t have to apologize to me. You’re always already forgiven. You are always already loved.
But thank you for telling me. I’m here whenever you need me. Always.
And. Words are not enough. Not meaning to do it, is not enough. Apology is not enough. Forgiveness, alone, is not enough.
You must do penance.
Penance is not punishment, or healing. It is not saying a thousand Hail-Marys.
Penance is restorative action. It is right-action. Doing what you know in your heart is good and true. It is doing what you need to do, to bring relationship back into the moment, enlightened by a new consciousness, entwined by a new depth.
It’s clearing up the mess you’ve made.
Whether this is with yourself, with those around you, or with God, the intent is the same: to repair the fabric of our inter-connected relationship, and allow depth to transform us.
This is step 3.
I know my innocence does not excuse me from what is asked. God has called me out.
“I love you. And my love is so strong, that I won’t stand by and let you be less than you really are.”
He is turning up the heat. He is asking me to go and speak. He is calling for what I have to say. He is beckoning me to stand amongst those who would listen, and gift from your heart, that which I see and love.
“You must choose to step out of what you think you know. And commit to the path you do not know. To come back to me. And love through me. With all your naked heart can bare. Do you accept your penance?”
I do. I am afraid, but my faith is stronger. Yes my dearest Lord, I do.
We are brought to a place of greater intimacy with ourselves. With truth. With God. With goodness itself.
We have followed the mystic injunction, and allowed the hand of our own hearts, to steer us.
We have restored the circle.
We have joined hands once again. But this time the grip is warmer, stronger, and more true.
And more joyful.
For this is the siddhic beauty that shame invites us toward. Joy. True, and pure.
This is the final step, before it begins again.
Welcome back my love. I missed you. But this time we feel different. My hand rests deeper in your hand. My step moves more elegantly with your step.
This is the path into alignment. This is the never-ending quest into our own eternal embrace. This is the place you are called to, that I am called to, that we are called to.
This is what is asked. And you have answered.
Shall we dance, just one more time?
They say that great artists steal. If one day I can with all honesty call myself a great writer, I will know I stole well, and with grace and novelty.
And so, to stroke that potential, I confess to you now that this article, indeed all my articles are taken from the mouths of many others.
For this particular article, I borrowed generously from a single book. It’s an amazing book by the equally amazing Barbara Brown Taylor, called On Speaking of Sin. And if any of my ideas have spoken to you, I wholeheartedly encourage you to read her work. She is a true preacher of truth.
And I leave you with the words of another. Words that have haunted me this year. Beautiful words. Godly words perhaps. I leave you with Rumi.
The breeze at dawn has whispers to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two world touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.