Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Ecology of Repentance I

Suffering and the gift of its transfiguration in the love of Christ is the heart of Christianity. Pain is the source of compassion, and compassion shifts our perspective on pain, which frees us from the fear of death. For pain to be transfigured, it must first be owned. The refusal to accept this truth, the denial of pain, is the ‘secularization’ by which Christianity has lost its heart, and is the source of its decline in the West. In addition, the denial of pain is one cause of the increasing polarity between men and women. Repentance is no longer understood as the nexus where we are restored to one another in the fire of Love. Having lost this central message of the Gospel, the decade of evangelism becomes a joke unless we recover the axiom that the fire of God is not available without the tears. In an age of imagemakers, celebrities, and the glitterati, pain is a no-go area, even as the question of identity becomes increasingly vexed. “no pain no gain” seems to apply only to sports. Many who apply themselves to sports are merely using physical pain to disguise, anesthetize, and avoid reality.

This denial induces anxiety. Anxiety leads to compulsive control, and increasing abhorrence of ambiguous empty spaces—spaces of the mind as well as the landscape: mental space that is not full of noise; language that is not literal; landscapes that are not artificial or exploited.

The possibility of escape from the increasingly narrow and violent world created by the projected fears of our own egos is becoming more and more problematic. Yet it is precisely this artificial environment that keeps us from returning to ourselves, to finding out who we really are. Repentance, supremely, is about being restored to ourselves (Lk. 15,17). We are caught in a vicious cycle: the more artificial our world, the more we are out of touch with ourselves, with pain that reveals to us who we really are and is the wellspring of compassion. The more we are out of touch with pain, the more afraid of it we become. If our only perception of chicken is that it comes from the supermarket shelf, there is no possibility of resolving the fundamental conundrum every human being must work out: that all life feeds on other life. Becoming a vegetarian is not a solution.

'Creation' Magazine, September 1992


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