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Original Shame and Original Blessing

Friday, July 1, 2016

Transformation: Week 1

Original Shame and Original Blessing
Friday, July 1, 2016

Christians pinpoint “original sin” in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though the phrase is not in the Bible. I think a much truer description of Adam and Eve’s experience would be “original shame.” They hide when God comes looking for them, and when God asks why, they say they feel naked. Then God asks Adam and Eve, “Who told you that you were naked?” The implication is, “I sure didn’t.” A few verses later, we see a very nurturing image of God as seamstress, sewing garments and covering the two humans to protect them from their shame (see Genesis 3). How different than the much later and opposite notion of God shaming people for all eternity in hell. The older tradition reveals the deep mystery of transformation: God even uses our shame and pain to lead us closer to God’s loving heart. Of course! After forty-seven years now in active ministry, this has become obvious to me.

We live in a time of primal shame, and we don’t seem to know how to escape it. I find very few people who don’t feel stupid, inadequate, dirty, or unworthy today, even if they do not consciously admit it. When people come to me for counseling or confession, they ask in one form or another, “If people knew the things I think, the things I’ve said, the things I want to do, who would love me?” We all have had feelings of radical, foundational unworthiness. I’m sure they take ten thousand different forms, but the shame is usually there.

We will be unable to have a solid experience of our own goodness and holiness unless we allow ourselves to be led to the mystical level. Otherwise, it is just wishful thinking or psychological analysis. In spiritual direction, so many people start with the premise, “If I behave correctly, I will one day get God to love me or even notice me.” We tend toward this behavioral model. But the biblical tradition actually teaches that first we must see God clearly, often by experiencing God’s mercy for our bad behavior—and then our right behavior will follow. We first must encounter and experience God’s original blessing, choosing, and loving of us. If you start with original sin or shame, normally the pit is so deep you never get out of it. This is why more and more the modern world resents Christianity, as any child would understandably resent a foundationally rejecting parent. All the good theology in the world is not strong enough to overcome bad psychology and anthropology. Some reformers actually thought of human nature as “a pile of manure covered over with Christ” or of human beings as “totally depraved.” I am afraid this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s try preaching original blessing and see if that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy instead!

Gateway to Silence:
Teach me how to see.

Adapted from Richard Rohr on TransformationJesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior (Franciscan Media: 1997), disc 1; and

Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2001), 29-30.

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