Friday, February 25, 2011

This Little Light of Mine, I'm Gonna Let It Shine

There is a huge difference between feelings and actions of guilt and those precipitated by shame. Admission of guilt is the beginning of healing; it presupposes trust in the other and in the relationship. Shame seeks to hide one's actions, predicting that the other will be duped by the performance. This leads to further alienation, rather than to reconciliation. It seems to me that the sin of Adam and of Cain was the refusal to admit guilt and to ask for guidance in how to avoid the same sin.

We, as a people, seem to continue getting it wrong, attempting to hide our weaknesses from each other because so many still believe that all illness and loss is punishment for some sin of an ancestor or of oneself. There seems to be a legalistic understanding of Grace and God that we carry forward into our personal relationships and hand down from generation to generation. A system of rewards and punishments, ridicule and retribution. Life in the Light should help us get past these issues, but we continue to project our own limitations onto our beliefs about The Almighty. Babies are all born beautiful; only through the shame of our ancestors are we made to feel less than gifts of Grace.

My mother spent her life feeling ashamed of her birth status as a child born to a mother who had married a divorced non-(Roman)Catholic. Further "evidence" of God's displeasure with her mother was the fact that my mother's father had died when my mother was only three, her brother five, and her sister an infant. There were also two half-brothers that my grandmother had been bringing up as her own.

Like more "proof" of sin was needed, as my grandmother was in the process of moving her little ones to be closer to her mother and crippled sister for support, her mother died. This left her with the burden of her widowed father and crippled sister added to the burdens of her widowhood and child-rearing. In those days, there were no protections for a widow supporting her family. My grandmother spent the rest of her life atoning for her "sins" by attending daily mass, never again marrying, and shunning shows of love.

My grandmother seemed to buy into the notion that the sins of the father (and presumably the mother) are passed on to their children. She never expressed any joy in the value of herself, her children, or her grandchildren, as this would lead to pridefulness, another sin. My mother seemingly, couldn't get past this sense of shame. She followed suit in attempting to atone for the sins of her parents, of which she felt herself to be tangible evidence.

Our religion, in that time, insisted on earthly penance for our transgressions, rather than throwing ourselves on the mercy of Our Just Creator. It also never asked us to make amends to those we helped to move away from feelings of grace, only to offer ourselves and our pain as human sacrifices to assuage the sins of ourselves and our ancestors. The only way out of this unending trap was to deny any wrongdoing and/or to do eternal penance. There was really no "Joy in Jesus" when I was coming up. And forget the idea of the Light of Holiness in an average individual.

It was heart-breaking to watch my mother deny herself joy in her children's use of their God-given gifts. All pride in her progeny was turned by her shame into pain. This was, presumably, her penance and her protection from the continuation of what she referred to as "arrogance". Thankfully, she seemed to see some light in her grandchildren's lives. It is now up to us, who are still living our earthly existence, to continue to honor and nurture the Life-In-The-Light affirming use of all the talents that our family members were given.

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."

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