A harsh word if ever there was one. It immediately calls to mind images of puritanical finger-pointing and condemnatory, angry crowds flinging stones at a cowering figure.
Yet, the word is sung again and again in one of the gentlest pieces I know. It’s part of a set of three short pieces which I’ll be singing with a small group on their tour in France this month: We Will Walk with Mother and Mourn. Repent…repent…repent we quietly coax the listener.
We will walk with Mother and mourn. We will walk with Mother and weep. We will bow in solemn prayer with her While Zion’s children sleep.
And through their sacred dwellings We will march and cry repent.
In low humiliation, Come low, low and repent.
The song comes from the mid-19th century Shaker tradition, and Mother would have been the Shakers’ founder, Ann Lee. Walking, dancing, marching – moving in any form was integral to their worship. To bow and to bend, as the famous Shaker hymn Simple Gifts goes. Despite their humility, pacifism and creativity, the Shakers viewed the world outside their insulated community as dangerous and humankind as essentially wicked. Needless to say, their fearfulness and fundamentalism did not pave the way for a successful future.
Yet, seeing our own community – i.e. our country – demonstrate its inability to welcome the stranger in obedience to twisted laws, and to read in The Washington Post Magazine this past Sunday about a church that divided families in obedience to a twisted theology, makes me wonder about the need for a collective, communal repentance. We all share in the guilt for our part in creating a society where these kinds of things happen.
Repent…repent…repent for the lack of love that causes such cruelty. We’ve seen images showing the cost of dividing families on our southern border and how the poor once again pay the costs of having hope for something better. In the article linked above about a Virginia evangelical church, the members who left the church talk about doing so at great costs as well. Loss of community, loss of faith, and forced separation from family members who choose to stay. The costs of cruelty are great indeed.
To see humankind as essentially wicked would be a loss for me though. It’s a world view which couldn’t save the Shakers, nor will it save that Virginia church, nor a country that labels whole groups of people as undesirables of one sort or another. Repent ..repent …repent for extremes of thought which divide and exclude .
My mind turned to Dietrich Bonhoeffer during a walk earlier this week. His path from pacifism to martyrdom is a powerful story, and caused him to resist the evil that led one German pastor to proclaim: “Christ has come to us through Adolph Hitler.” Bonhoeffer’s pacifist beliefs turned more radical during the 1930’s and he wrote The Cost of Discipleship in 1937. He paid the costs of that discipleship with his life in a Nazi death camp in April of 1945.
Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance… Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.. (D. Bonhoeffer)
We’ve all heard the saying that “freedom is not free.” It seems there are costs for so much that we hold dear, and the trick is to know what exactly it is we should value. Safety or truth? Truth or peace? Peace or community? Community or integrity? Integrity or kindness? Kindness or …. it’s like a huge game of rock, paper, scissors.
And so we are led, as we always are, back to our highest calling – to love. Repent… repent… repent then for all those times when our actions were motivated by anything other than love and caused us to be divided from a sense of solidarity with all of humankind.
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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.
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