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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wash Me, and I Shall Be Clean?

One of the many changes I have noticed in myself over the last several years is that the more time I spend in meditation the less the old liturgical language I used to love resonates with me. In fact, some of it is simply repulsive. This morning I saw a post on the Internet that had a verse from Psalm 51 that is often used in confessions of sin in worship services. The Psalmist pleads with God to, "wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." The implication is that our sin, the things we do wrong, have so befouled us that we need serious cleansing, something like a spiritual version of fecal incontinence that needs power washing.

I've often wondered how often such language has stopped people from even trying something new and challenging. I wonder how many people, filled with religious fervor, simply avoid challenging and uncertain situations for fear of spiritually pooping their pants. I wonder what possible good such imagery could accomplish other than keeping people under control and on the farm - and if that's good, I am not so sure good is very good at all!

Back when I was an enthusiastic institutional Christian I relished the group confession in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church. In those days I attended Mass three days a week - as often as it was offered in my parish. There was great comfort in the words of absolution, and for those who still find those kinds of rituals comforting I have no desire to take their comfort away. All of us, even me, need reassurance that we are okay every now and then. Now, however, that I have come to see that we are all bearers of what Buddhists call Buddha Nature and what Christians sometimes call Christ Consciousness, or what I just like to call God, I see the consequences of sin (those times when we know better but take the easy way out anyway) not so much as spiritual sharting but rather an obscuration of our essential basic goodness. It's less a matter of a soiled diaper than it is a matter of needing to clean our glasses. To be sure when our glasses are dirty we don't see the world or ourselves accurately, and that is a problem - but there is a difference between being so profoundly flawed we need someone else to sandblast our diaper and reaching into our pocket for a cloth to clean our lenses.

In the Upper Room before the Last Supper Jesus washed his disciples' feet. Peter, ever speaking before thinking, first asked Jesus to not wash his feet and then asked him to wash his whole body. Jesus responded that people who are clean need only to have their feet washed, a reference to the fact that in a culture where people walked everywhere in sandals their feet got dirty. If Jesus were here today I suspect he would wash his disciples' hands, but I digress. So if Jesus is telling Peter he is clean, and at this point in his life Peter certainly got it wrong more often than he got it right, what in the world makes us think we need to be washed and purified? The answer is the thought and behavior control mechanism of the Church has led us to believe that for seventeen hundred years, and it's time to claim our freedom.

We all make mistakes, we all take the easy way out sometimes, and we all unintentionally hurt people at times - but every one of those behaviors originates in our own pain and brokenness. At those times we don't need to be reminded of our brokenness - it's all too apparent - but rather of our goodness. Rather than being kicked when we are down, we need to be lifted up. Wash me an I shall be clean? You are clean already! Rejoice!

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