When I read through spiritualities of the past, I find that I don’t have the same psychology of sin. A great many of the medieval mystics, Caroline Divines, and other luminaries I read speaking of weeping over sins–and they mean that literally. I’ve never done this. Is not that I’m not sorry for my sins, but they don’t pull at me the way that these folks apparently felt. I wonder why that is . . .
Part of it is probably attributable to the decline in auricular confession. Because we don’t have to ennumerate our sins, we don’t recognize them or even notice them as much as our spiritual forebearers. This loss of attentiveness is not a good thing, but it’s where we are. The Episcopal Church has no official stance on Confession that I’m aware of but there is a liturgy for it (pp. 447-452) and many of the higher churches offer appointed times for the sacrament; for Lutherans, of course, private confession is confessionally mandated . . .
Part of it too is a shift in psychology. We live in a more humanistic time. Our worldview is different from theirs. Furthermore, our current liturgies are addressed to and reinforce our worldview rather than theirs. The liturgies that are most in my bones, the ELCA Green Book and the ’79 BCP don’t emphasize penitence the way that earlier liturgies did and (as I have remarked before) when I look at those liturgies with modern eyes their humility seems excessive to the point that it borders on spiritual pride (Look at me!–how wonderfully humble I am! I’m *so* much more humble than you, etc.). I’d probably feel different if I were raised with these liturgies–but I wasn’t.
As a result, I’ve never know quite how to approach sin in a constructive fashion. One thing I know I need to do is to find a confessor; I hope to do that when I move. But something really clicked for me today in relation to an image from Theresa of Avila. It was in reference to the nearness of Christ to us and the soul as a mirror.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried lighting your house with candles or oil lamps, but they don’t produce very much light at all. One of the tricks for improving this problem before electricty was to put a mirror behind the light source, effectively doubling it by redirecting the light. I suddenly had an image of Christ, Lux Mundi, standing near, even next, to each one of us. The soul is a mirror and sin a black stain upon the mirror that absorbs light, not reflecting it. We are called to letour light so shine before others….but we are not the original source of that light–we reflect rather than create. It is in reflecting Christ that we share his love to the world. Sin, then, diminishes the effect of his light through our own diminished capacity to reflect. For some reason this way of looking at the subject touched me and caught me in a way that others haven’t to this point. Our sin dimishes his witness in the world; the exercise of virtue, on the other hand, as motivated by the Sacraments and the movement of the Spirit restore our reflective abilities…