“People have so many definitions of sin,” I said. “Do you have one?”
He looked surprised but not offended. He fitted the tips of his fingers together and gazed briefly upwards into the newly leafed branches of the old sugar maple. “A falling short from your totality,” he said. “Choosing to live in ways you know interfere with the harmony of that totality.”
“But… how do you know what your totality is?”
“You learn. You unlearn. You pay attention. You feel where things balance for you and where they don’t.”
Gail Godwin, Father Melancholy’s Daughter
You know those books that make you fall in love with fiction and pleasure you into realizing that we do need stories and that novels really can capture and change lives? Gail Godwin’s Father Melancholy’s Daughter was just that sort of novel for me this new year’s week. As I bandy about this new relationship with the Christianity of my childhood, this story of an Anglican rector and his daughter and their frequent conversations about the mystics and the nature of God and the soul was essential reading.
There were so many passages that could have lead to pages of journal entries and much frustration that this was a library book that had to stay safe from my frantic readers’ pen.
This young priest’s description of sin really is an “oh” moment. One of those explanations full of beautifully related words that equal an idea that is at once completely elegant and totally obscure. You just want to sit and unpack it and take as much time as your hectic life allows to really understand what totality and harmony and balance falling short could possibly mean.
I think one reason this exchange seems so foreign and so beautiful is that I never connected “sin,” that foreign word from a long ago recited Act of Contrition, with words that are so universal and abundant.
My thoughts and my meditations used to be nothing but a kaleidoscope of my partial understandings of the religions of the world with healthy doses of an un-mediated worship of Mother Earth thrown in. To realize that aspects of the tradition I once rejected can be described in terms of an individual’s totality and a search for harmony again shows me that all paths lead to a single center, a single Spirit that unites all the Universe.
I don’t know that I have ever formulated my own definition of sin. Have you? There always seemed to be so many positive things that demanded well thought meaning, that I never thought to have time for the bad stuff. Maybe my search for a personal definition has ended before it even began…
“A falling short from your totality.”