I can remember being small and wanting to make sure I got to Heaven when I grew up. I was riddled with anxiety about sin. Making sure to live as perfectly as possible. To be counted among the saints; to live a stainless, sinless life. Much to the credit of my Catholic upbringing I took this sin business pretty seriously. I learned there were even two types of sin. Venial and Mortal Sins, the latter so serious that it was unforgivable and would land you in the fiery pits of Hell for all eternity. What terrible act could a child commit that would sentence them to eternal damnation? Apart from the obvious murdering, stealing and adultery, skipping Sunday mass was among the most serious offenses a Catholic might commit. I learned pretty quickly that if this was the bar for salvation, I was screwed. I mean I didn't have a prayer of making it to the pearly white gates. Thankfully by God's good grace, I have come to a new, if unconventional spin on sin.
As any good writer should, I referred to the almighty wisdom of Sir Google in preparation for this post. I found it interesting that the definition of sin according to dictionary.com varies pretty significantly from the way sin was defined by my religious education instructors. I learned that the general understanding of sin is "an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law." Although I don't disregard this definition, I think when it comes to sin, lots of people have a totally perverted and often self-sabotaging view of sin.
I often revert back to dogmatic thinking. Sin equals doing bad stuff. If I do 'bad stuff' then I am a sinner and if I am a sinner I go to Hell. Or at the very least I will be judged. But here's the thing. As a person who has professed faith and trust in Jesus, I am no longer a prisoner of the Law. Praise Jesus! So for me, sin takes on a new function in my life. Sin does not equal bad my friends. No no. Sin equals separate! And trust me when I tell you, I have found that there is no greater pain or suffering than the feeling of being separate in Spirit from God. So much of the anxiety, depression and despair I have experienced has not been a matter of circumstance, but a matter of sin that I have not recognized or dealt with. If being connected to Spirit is LIFE, then being separate from Spirit must be DEATH.
I love the parable about the True Vine. In the Gospel of John Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. Branches cannot survive if they are cut off from the vine. The Spirit cannot live in the presence of Sin. When we sin, we cut ourselves off from the vine. No matter how big or small the sin. This interpretation has absolutely nothing to do with salvation or damnation. It has all to do with life and the peace, joy and contentment with which it can be experienced. It concerns itself with the condition of, or the soil of the heart. Sin doesn't make me bad. It makes me separate and it produces a subtle, unyielding feeling of unease, self-centeredness and anxiety in my life. Let me give you an example.
Nicotine is one of those substances that had a really strong hold over me for a pretty long time. Now I know that God, my Creator does not want me smoking or doing anything for that matter that jeopardizes my health and makes the temple of my body unclean. Smoking is nasty. I think we can all agree that the hard, black lungs resulting from years of tobacco use are definitely unclean and a far cry from the soft, pink tissue that our creator has placed in us to perform the sacred function of breathing. EVERY time I have fallen into tobacco use I am fooled into thinking meh, not a big deal. What's one cigarette. What's one drag even... but it is a slippery slope. Apart from the issue of desecrating the holy temple that is my body, I have also opened the flood gates of addiction. Addiction in and of itself is sin. To some extent, we are all addicted to something. But God, our creator wants us to love Him with all our heart, all our mind and all our soul. He wants us focused on HIM. So how can I be focused on HIM when I am jonesing so bad for a cigarette that it is the only thing I can focus on?
There are long and short term consequences to sin. All sin. If you smoke cigarettes, there is a good chance that you will eventually get lung cancer and die. If you cheat on your spouse, you will likely end up divorced paying dearly for your transgression. If you steal, you will face fines, jail time even death depending on who you steal from and where you live. If you gossip, there's a good chance that person will learn what you've been up to and there will be backlash. But if your heart center is in good spiritual shape, your sin will produce another effect. Keeping with my example of smoking, I very quickly will begin to feel bad. Not just sick, or short of breath or guilty. But BAD. Like I don't think I will ever feel happy again kind of bad. And that is what feeling separate from God feels like for me. Kind of like a dementor just entered my space and parked itself there for all eternity.
As I have moved through my yoga practices this week, I have done some visualization of my Heart Chakra. I imagined the swirling green wheel of energy. I could also very clearly see in my mind's eye black spots, dark places in that swirling wheel of light. This is my sin. I am not entirely aware of the sin my heart is shouldering. It could be as simple as the amount I allow worry to guide my actions rather than living from a place of trust and faith in the Almighty. One thing I have grown sure of is, that as long as I have a relationship with Jesus my sin cannot break me. Sin exists for me now as an impetus to live a cleaner more Christ centered life. And that fills my heart with gratitude.
Ultimately God wants us to enjoy our lives. He wants us to be happy, healthy and provided for. We know this because Jesus has said "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." That which God finds sinful are the things that cause harm, even death to ourselves and others. Sin is not there to make us feel guilty. God is not sitting on His perch hoping that we will screw up so that He can be angry with and punish us. God walks with us and quietly nudges us to deal with our separateness one thing at a time. Because of His perfection we do not have to be perfect. He is perfect grace and perfect mercy. He is Love. If you are overcome by grief, or even subtly anxious or irritable your problem may boil down to being separate on some level from the Source of your being. A healthy heart does not rely only on a healthy diet and exercise. A healthy and open heart requires a connection to the life force energy that flows in and through us all. The more aware of that connection we become, the deeper level of peace and purpose we will feel. The more our hearts are focused on our relationship with our Creator, the more we can be blessed and be a blessing to others.
Happy heart opening and namaste.
(this post was originally published in September of 2016)