Essay # 3
Contrition – The Moving on Prayer
Does the lightning from the dark sky feel regret when it strikes and destroys a tree or causes a fire that burns a whole forest wiping out animal and human life? Does a hurricane lament when it leaves devastation in its wake? Does any animal grieve when it kills and eats another animal lower on the food chain? Let’s not be too quick to answer, thinking we are the only ones with a conscience. Whatever the answer, nature does appear to move on whether it is innocent or not. Is there a lesson here for us? Can we move on even if we are not in the least indifferent to the consequences of our actions? We can only speak for ourselves.
Let’s speak for ourselves. When our conscience is pricked we might ask our neighbor for forgiveness. We might even ask God for forgiveness. Jesus, in the prayer he gave us, shows us the standard for this. He asked us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses (sins, debts), as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us.” I don’t think this means that God will only forgive us if we forgive. Rather I believe it says we only experience God’s forgiveness when we forgive. God’s care for us is assured and constant. We are the ones who are slow in perceiving it. But when we do forgive others, then God is working through us. Then we feel the relief, and a burden is lifted. In some strange backward reverse way we know what it is like to be forgiven when we forgive. Because God forgives us unconditionally we are now able to forgive.
Even traditional Christian teaching says that Jesus Christ already definitively died for our sins. If we don’t believe that, are we saying that Jesus died in vain? Another theology says that Jesus died because God has forgiven us. Another says that God forgives us even before we do wrong. Whatever our view may be, in each case we are humbled and contrite.
Of course we don’t have amnesia. We still remember the hurts. We have hurt others and we hurt ourselves. Who could forget? Forgiveness also does not mean we condone wrong actions. But we move on. It is the same when God forgives us. We still remember what we have done. We still feel regret. But we move on. Remember, we do not confess to God in order to be forgiven. We confess to God because God has already forgiven us, has never stopped loving and accepting us. We confess to God to remind ourselves of what God has already done. Then our forgiveness of others is an act of gratitude.
That brings us to contemplative prayer, prayer of silence, being in the presence of God. In the above paragraph I have been using the word “confess.” Confessing would naturally involve words. And the words are often necessary. After all, contemplative prayer is not the only kind of prayer. However, in the title of this essay I have used the word “contrition.” I understand contrition as a state of being. We might refer to a person as being contrite. To be contrite does not necessarily need words. We stand before God and the world knowing that we are not innocent. But this does not debilitate us. We are able to move on knowing that God still accepts us. In that state, what more can anyone say? This is what it means to be humble. The humble person knows where he or she stands. We all stand guilty and forgiven. We don’t need to be wordy when in this condition. We just are what we are, who we are.
Some people say they do not believe in God. But God believes in us and empowers us nonetheless. We are called to be holy as God is holy. We don’t become holy by being so very good. We become holy because God associates with us. Be still and let God. God’s holiness is contagious. Being holy does not mean we are innocent (idea from Richard Rohr). Because we are holy we are able to move on. Our guilt does not become an obsession, even if we still have to live with the consequences of our actions, and need to make amends. Our past and future wrongs are part of who we are. They are incorporated into the whole of us that God so loves.
For essays #1 and #2 check out archives above.