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Freedom from Shame
Freedom from Shame

Our Original Shame

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Father Richard speaks to the pervasive sense of shame that has taken root in our society:   

What we call Original Sin in Genesis perhaps could be better called Original Shame, because Adam and Eve describe themselves as feeling naked. Some of the first words of God to these newly created people are “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11). Next, in a lovely maternal image, God as seamstress sews leather garments for them (3:21). The first thing God does after creation itself is cover the shame of these new creatures.  

This must name something that is fundamental within us. We live, not just in an age of anxiety, but also in a time of significant shame. I find very few people who do not feel inadequate, stupid, dirty, or unworthy. When people come to me for counseling or confession, they always express in one way or another, “If people only knew the things I think, the things I’ve done, the things I’ve said, the things I want to do, who would love me?” We all have that terrible feeling of a fundamental unworthiness. It takes many different forms, but somehow it appears in each of our lives, even if we do not acknowledge it.  

Guilt, I am told, is about things we have done or not done, but our shame is about the primal emptiness of our very being. Shame is not about what we have done, but about who we are and who we are not. Guilt is a moral question. Shame—foundational shame, at least—has to do with our very being itself. It is not resolved by changing behavior as much as by changing our very self-image, our alignment with the universe. Shame is not about what we do, but where we abide.   

God is always the initiator. God is always the Hound of Heaven [1] who goes out after us because God knows our primordial shame. God is always sewing garments of love and protection to cover our immense and intense sense of unworthiness. Our very movements toward God are only because God has first moved toward us.  

People often seem to start with this premise: “If I behave correctly, I will one day see God clearly.” Yet the biblical tradition says the exact opposite: If we see God clearly, we will behave in a good and human way. Our right behavior does not cumulatively lead to our true being; our true being leads to eventual right behavior. Many of us think that good morality will lead to mystical union, but in fact, mystical union produces correct morality—along with a lot of joy left over. The greatest surprise is that sometimes a bad moral response results in the very collapsing of the ego that leads to our falling into the hands of the living God (see Hebrews 10:31).  

References:  

[1] Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven” was first printed in 1890, and included in his book Poems in 1893.  

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2020), 37–38, 40. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Exercise in Grief and Lamentation credits from left to right: Unknown, Jessie Jones, Jennifer Tompos. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise. 

Story from Our Community:  

I have been reading your daily meditations for several years. More often than not, I find material presented that is inspiring and/or educational for me. Surprisingly, the story from the community sometimes is what touches me on the deepest level. I find myself surprised that someone else has felt and experienced exactly what I have and yet I could not see it clearly for myself until reading the writer’s words. This makes me feel less weird, less alone. Thank you for realizing the importance of including a space for your readers to share their wisdom. —Kathy C. 

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