Hear our voice, O Lord, according to your faithful love.
Dmytro Bortniansky. Let God Arise. Choristers from Pro Coro Canada, Boyan Ensemble of Kyiv, the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, Axios Men's Ensemble of Edmonton and others, conducted by Michael Zaugg. St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton. (2016)
from: Rowan Williams, “Sinners.” In Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams. Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia for All That Is. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2014. (Continued from Day 29, yesterday.)
. . . When St. Paul talks about sin, it’s obvious that he thinks ﬁrst of a climate of thinking and behaviour in which we have become incapable of relating to God or each other except in fear, rivalry and suspicion, a climate in which we take it for granted that what’s good for the other is likely to be bad for us. And Christian tradition has given us a formidable tool for diagnosis in the shape of the list of seven “deadly sins.”
Once again, we’ve tended to treat these as a narrow list of things we shouldn’t do instead of a sort of health chart or reality check. Is our behaviour characterised by arrogance, over-assertiveness? By jealousy, egotism, acquisitiveness? By obsessions about our physical needs or impersonal attitudes to sex? Is it shot through with a sort of apathy, emotional tiredness or deadness? These are the ingredients for unreal living, according to the tradition. If they sound familiar, and if they sound uncomfortably familiar, welcome to the company of conscious sinners——unreal people who yet haven’t completely lost their taste for reality, who can still notice there’s something gone askew.
An alleluia for sinners, then, is also an alleluia for people who are able to ask themselves awkward questions. If you know you’re a sinner—-that is, if you know that your perception of things is so skewed that you can’t be confident of acting sensibly—you’re that much more likely to be dissatisfied with some of what you’re encouraged to take for granted about yourself or your society. Are these really the most important human needs? Is our way of life obviously what everyone in the world ought to want? Are these movements in the global economy inevitable and beyond challenge? The good sinner (if you see what I mean) doesn’t necessarily have the answers; but she’s very wary of dismissing the questions as silly.
In this sense, the “good sinner” actually lives in a larger, more mysterious, and more inviting world than the person who hasn’t woken up, let alone the person who more or less deliberately refuses to wake up. I suppose that when we talk not just of sin but of evil, what we instinctively mean is the gap between the condition of recognising your own muddle and destructiveness and the condition of insisting that this is in fact how things are—or that it doesn’t matter how things are, because what matters is only what I happen to want. Evil is not just inhabiting the cloud, the morass of unreality; it is affirming that it is good or normal or that the whole question is empty. It’s fortunately fairly rare; but it’s important to be able to recognise it. We see it in people who are incapable, it seems, of recognising hurt and humiliation to others for what it is. It’s the mindset of the terrorist, the drug dealer, or the torturer, but we meet it in quite domestic circumstances too, with those who have no framework for seeing how they erode the life or integrity of someone else, in an exploitative marriage, in a situation of bullying in school, and so on. The point is not that we then have the right to say that these people are extra wicked and deserving of no compassion. It isn’t about degrees of blame but about degrees of slavery to untruth. And for that there may be many reasons for which an individual isn’t wholly to blame. It’s very seldom that we really come across someone who has deliberately gone out of their way to turn the moral world upside down. . . .
(Continues on Day 31, tomorrow.)
May God our Redeemer show us compassion and love. Amen.