Thursday, October 11, 2007

What to do with your past

On the flight in to California I continued working my way through Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain. I'm all but done - I imagine I'll finish it off long before I hit my layover in Chicago tomorrow. Somewhere over the Rocky Mountains I came across a concept that has simply made me stop and think.

Merton is making contrasts here, as he's working his way around time time of his beginning experiences at the monastery, between those who stay in the monastery and those who left. Among many other observations, Merton noted that those who were the happiest, the most saintly, took past sins differently than the others. Those less-developed in the spiritual life, he suggested, looked at their past sins solely as evidence of their failings - in other words, they reflected the sin again by looking in on themselves. The saintly types, however, thought of past sins more in the remembrance of God's grace and mercy which came after those sins had been confessed. That is, they looked at the greater movement of the Spirit rather than their failings.

I think sometimes, particularly in our self-therapeutic culture, we likewise tend to think of our past sins only in the context of what we did wrong, neglecting to pay attention to the mercy meted out to us by the God whose mercy is far greater than any sin we can commit. We need to differentiate between ignoring our sins because we are so certain of God's mercy and ignoring God's mercy because we are so focused on the horror of our sins.