going to do better v. doing better

This morning I telephoned one of our dearest friends. We speak often, yet this was an especial conversation on an especial day of commemoration after a year of great, grave loss. Our friend, one of the most honest, resilient, and courageous people we know, shared a variety of her thoughts and feelings about her grief and her growth.

Though acknowledging life’s difficulties and she’s known far more than her fair share, she’s never dwelled on her disappointments. (As one who long has wrestled with the overweening power of his inner grudge-bearing spirit, I could, perhaps should take or at least borrow this good page from her book!) Still, referring to occasions when she had received less than the support she desired and needed, she mentioned a conversation with a relative who, conceding that lack, confessed, “I’m going to do better.”

This particular encounter, for me, is a lens peering into the matrix of our universal human experience.

Who among us has not felt discontent with family members, however short-or-long-lived, however once-and-done or damnably repeated (thereby painfully validating the observation attributed to American author Edna Buchanan, “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves”)? I have.

And who among us, at one point or another, has not been that relative or friend who, in a time of another’s desire or need, could have done more, but didn’t or wouldn’t? I have.

And who among us, in her or his life’s pilgrimage, has not journeyed along the path of penitence whilst needing to take that road always less traveled of repentance? I have.

Penitence and repentance, as two heavily theologically freighted and weighted words, oft are confined to conversations about the relationship between humanity and divinity, between us and God, and used interchangeably. However, on both counts, I discern a need for the deepening of our understanding, thus, purposefully applying penitence and repentance to all of our human interactions and distinctly. On this latter point, penitence and repentance are related, but not the same.

Penitence connotes my regretting something I’ve said or done or not said or not done that has caused harm to another. Repentance (as the younger word, entering language-use roughly around the 13th century, a hundred years or so after penitence, thus, I think, remarkably, revealingly indicating a secondary, necessary enhancement of meaning) signifies my attempt to alter my behavior; no longer leaving undone things that I ought to have done and no longer doing things that I ought not to have done.[1]

By way of simplistic, yet concrete clarifying example…

I step on your foot (whether my act is careless or deliberate, your pain is the same).

You: Ouch!

Me: I’m sorry!

Later, I step on your foot.

You: Ouch!

Me: I’m sorry!

I, at still another subsequent moment, step on your foot.

You: Ouch!

Me: I’m sorry!

You: Paul, I appreciate your penitence, but what I really desire and need is your repentance.

Penitence and repentance. The difference between “I’m going to do better” and doing better.

 

Footnote:

[1] A paraphrase of the Confession of Sin, Morning Prayer: Rite I, The Book of Common Prayer, pages 41-42

my birthday tributes

June 8, 2017. My 65th birthday. As humans reckon time, an important historical, social, and personal benchmark.

I am in a contemplative, and, in part, melancholy mood.

Yes, I am happy (not a word, given my intense early-in-life-and-unto-this-day-awareness of an inner shadowy specter of sadness, I oft employ) to be alive at this time in this world with, all things told, a preponderance of blessed memories, present contentment, and future hopes.

Yet, thinking of my immediate family, I ponder being an orphan and wonder why, beyond the reality of my being the youngest of the four, I am alive, whilst they are not.

WRA 1976

My brother Wayne. Between the two of us, the finer human being. Daily he abides with me in the harrowing (sorrowing) absence of his presence and the hallowing (sanctifying) presence of his absence. I love you, Wayne. Because of you, I have a resident, resonant sense of my better self.

Lolita & William c 1940My father, William, and my mother, Lolita. It took quite the while for me, well into my forties, to see through the veil of my childhood and adolescent disappointments, ever looming, actual and imagined, as haunting reminiscences of the deprivations of my want and need, to behold and honor how rich and real was your love for me. I love you, Dad. I love you, Momma. Because of you, I am.

“after these things” – a meditation for Holy Saturday

Joseph of Arimathea and NicodemusAs John the evangelist tells it, “After these things” – the arrest, trial, condemnation, crucifixion, and death of Jesus – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus rendered homage; Joseph providing the tomb and Nicodemus, spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.

In Christian tradition, Good Friday focuses on Jesus’ suffering and dying. Easter Day, his resurrection. Holy Saturday, the “in-between day,” his being dead; which (as I remain alive, thus, not yet having the experience of being dead, and when I will be dead, not knowing whether I will be conscious of the experience) leaves me to contemplate the sorrow of the living.

For Joseph and Nicodemus, as far as they knew, the darkness of their grief at the forever-there-after-death of their friend would last as long as they lived. Still, I behold in them the light of something else that would endure. Their love. For their final act of devotion to Jesus truly was the threshold, the beginning of the rest of their lives…

Joseph, in fear, was a secret disciple; following Jesus along the confined and hidden corridors of his heart. In asking Pilate, the Roman governor, for the body of Jesus, Joseph “blew his cover,” exposing himself as a believer. He was a secret disciple until his public profession of devotion to Jesus crucified his secret. No longer could, would he be undercover…

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a revered observer of God’s Law, “first came to Jesus by night” (John 3); “night,” a metaphor for skeptical curiosity and outright unbelief. In his encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus came to believe; his loyalty shown in his defense of Jesus before his fellow Pharisees (John 7.50) and, at Jesus’ death, in the costly outpouring of a hundredweight of embalming spices.

I believe that Joseph and Nicodemus, somehow, somewhere along the way had made a commitment to follow Jesus; in their sorrow, lovingly dedicating themselves always to revere his memory.

What they could not know was that the first Easter Day, that would transform their sacred sorrow into holy hope and their discipleship of true and loving, though mere blessed memory into the power of their living reality, was soon to dawn.