February 22, 2012
Nothing has so filled me with shame and regret
as what I have not done.
~ Lionel Trilling
is thought of as a time of giving something up, or as a period
in which a series of “don’ts” prevails: we give up something we
like or avoid specified behavior for the period of 40 days, with
the hope of reforming ourselves. In the tradition, this
approach is considered to be at best a first step to true
repentance. Jeremy Taylor, the 17th century cleric, spoke of
two kinds of repentance:
The first is mere sorrow for what is past, an
ineffective trouble, producing nothing good. . . To this
repentance pardon is nowhere promised in scripture. But there
is a repentance which is called “conversion,” or “amendment of
life,” a repentance productive of holy fruits, such as the
Baptist and our blessed Savior preached.
Holy sorrow is productive. Jeremy Taylor
relied on St. Paul, who noted that the product of holy sorrow is
“carefulness and the clearing of the self of indignation, fear,
vehement desires, zeal, and revenge.” Repentance is not only a
purging of our iniquity; it is also “a sanctification of the
whole person, turning nature into grace, passions into reason,
and flesh into spirit.” (J. Taylor, “Faith and Repentance”).
appear in Jewish teachings on repentance.
Teshuva (repentance) is a key concept that
includes “repentance rooted in fear” as well as “repentance
rooted in love.”
Teshuva rooted in
fear is not the highest form of repentance, but the reformation
of one’s character through the analysis of sin, remorse and
restitution, when combined with the ceasing of the sinful
action, is called “repentance rooted in love.”
The highest form of repentance – “full teshuva” –
involves refraining from the sin for which one has repented.
Remorse deepens and one’s confession becomes more
profound as the steps of
teshuva are repeated again and again in one’s life.
in the middle ages also distinguished between two kinds of
repentance. There is the kind of repentance that “draws us
downwards into yet greater suffering, plunging us into distress”
that is akin to despair. This is unproductive repentance that
is unable to help us find a way out of our suffering. The
other kind of repentance “is of God” and it “brings spiritual
joy that lifts the soul out of her suffering and distress and
binds her to God.” With this second kind of repentance comes
humility. (Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land, p. 131)
To be fruitful
and transformative our practices during Lent must take account
of our sinfulness and weakness. St. Augustine is helpful in
this regard: “Imagine yourself . . . in weak health, as is true
of all of us, for all of this life of ours is a weakness, and a
long life is but a prolonged weakness.” (Sermon 30,2) And in
The Confessions (Book 11, xi, 9) he writes: “O Lord,
who have been gracious to all of my iniquities, heal also my
weakness . . . By hope we are saved and in patience we await
your promises.” This prayerful acquiescence before God is
complemented in the Christian soul by stirrings of love, as
noted by Alan Jones in “Passion for Pilgrimage”:
Repentance is for lovers.
It is for the enlarging of the heart.
Ours, then is a struggle
to recover lost octaves of passion.
So that we may be
truer and better lovers.
Let our practices this Lent be in service
of a healing reparation and of the Love that calls us.