Your job isn’t to be correct; it is to connect. Sin is not an act; it is a state of disconnection.
The state of sin is always unconscious. Consciousness is always expressed in love [and oneness].
(From An Evening with Richard Rohr at All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA, April 13, 2016)
When we are called to reflect on, and hopefully evolve from, our own unkindness or contemplate the anger and abuse of another, it can be a confusing, dizzying process, complete with pain and a sense that our world is somehow upside-down. Why did we say that hurtful word? How could that person act like that? Why would I or they reach for the most painful expression or action at that moment?
Although many of us might answer that we really didn’t mean to be so cruel, others might very well say that in fact they very much intended to inflict pain, to cause the other suffering. Indeed, these are the same people who would likely immediately assume a defensive posture and declare that the other made them act like that. Or perhaps that they in fact are the victims of abuse and are just protecting themselves or lashing out in response.
The reasons we take these various positions and respond as we do matters, of course, but not necessarily in the big picture, which I am now contemplating. What I am pondering now are the concepts Father Richard Rohr presents here.
Most of us in the Christian tradition learn that sin is an action or activity, which is to be avoided for fear of God’s (and our parents’) punishment. If, however, we cannot avoid it, we will surely receive a punitive response and we also must repent and atone. We must ask for, and hopefully receive, forgiveness.
Father Rohr, as he most always does, offers us another perspective. And here we enter into the realm of the mystics, the desert fathers, the true and original biblical message. Despite what most of us were taught at school, in our families, and at church, perfection correctness are not the intended goals. The most important aspiration and even quotidian practice is connection. We must first remember to connect with ourselves, for the Divine lives and moves in our hearts, and from there we are free to connect and belong to one another.
It follows, therefore, that sinning is not an action that occurs in form outside of us. It is a state of being in which we are disconnected first from our hearts, our true selves, and thus from others. For if we are not connected to who we really are, if we forget that we come from and are manifestations of the Divine in us, then we, by definition, cannot fully connect, or become intimate with, others. In this state of disconnection and forgetting who we are, we then cannot help but sin, acting out in ways that hurt others.
Further, as Father Rohr tells us, this state of sin, this disconnection, is always unconscious. In other words, when we are in despair and feel alone and isolated, we are blind not only to our own pain, but also to the cruelty, chaos, and trauma we inflict on others. To be fully connected to love, which at its highest form is oneness, we must be conscious. We must be awake. We must be fully engaged with our own hearts so that we might connect with others while standing in our own vulnerability, empathy, and compassion.
How do these concepts offer clarity or comfort in the midst of our either inflicting hurt on others or receiving another’s abuse? First, they invite us to become more compassionate with ourselves when we behave in less than kind and conscious ways. Second, if we can see others with this same compassion, perhaps we can better detach from the hurtful words and actions and realize they are actually not personal. This depersonalization can be clarifying and healing. Although their behavior can be momentarily triggering, we can begin to see it for what it is: a manifestation of their disconnectedness from themselves and from the constant Divine love that is always available to us all.