Shame and Grace Part 7 - Beyond Shadows of Guilt

Sep 05

Shame and Grace Part 7 - Beyond Shadows of Guilt

Wed, 09/05/2012 - 06:36 — Thabo Mokete

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.(NRSV)1

The problem of guilt has been a frustrating puzzle for centuries. But for that longest time we have only dealt with tokens of guilt. By grace we may now get beyond these shadows and work with the reality.

Problems With Guilt

There are some formidable challenges that make guilt a difficult area to navigate even for the best among us. We can look at a few examples here:

False accusation: We carry a heavy conscience sometimes that we need not carry, based on stories. In example, a child may suffer blame from a situation where the parents separated. In childhood, the girl had no way of understanding what was happening between mom and dad. She thought she was the reason they fought so much. She may then occupy this scapegoat position for the rest of her life, unless she investigates the truth behind the story.2

Mistaken identity: One may suffer self-condemnation as a result of not understanding one's  calling in life. Of wanting to be what he is not essentially. If someone keeps hearing "You saints, you must be sinless" Then somebody sees that he has sins, and gets crushed by the burden. The root of the problem is that he identifies with the imposed label of 'saint'. There are people to whom the word 'saint' applies  and they should live up to it.3

Collective responsibility: In the new culture of industrialized society, a mother may experience self-reproach for not being able to carry out the nurturing of her baby because she is at work, earning an income. This problem belongs to the whole society that is engineered to require her to be at work and be a mother at the same time. This can can be crushing, if carried alone.
To say something is collective responsibility means one should only carry that potion that they are responsible for. One should not carry the potion also of things engineered by society.4
A misplaced desire for change: We may find ourselves preoccupied with wanting to change things around so we can be acceptable. To stop stealing, to stop falling in love with the wrong people, to stop drinking the wrong liquids, to stop smoking the wrong herbs, to stop eating the wrong foods, to stop taking the wrong tablet, to stop listening to the wrong stories, to stop looking at the wrong pictures, to stop spending time with the wrong crowd. Sure, these things bring  consequences, but have we seen the light were the necessary turning around is located for these things? Out of panic we often change the things that ought not to be changed, and leave the real guilt untouched.5

Transfer of blame: How many times do people transfer their faults to someone else in a day? Someone says out loud: "Driver I'm getting late for work." This way, if he or she indeed gets late for work,  the blame is shared with or even transferred to the slow bus driver.

The man who, after engaging in inappropriate or abusive sexual behavior with a lady, says "She was wearing too short a skirt!" Or the woman who feels she might be wearing too revealing clothes, then says, "the men are undressing me with their eyes!"

The stronger setting up the weaker: The stronger person (one who feels a heavier burden of guilt, but secretly) will ingeniously set up the younger or less culpable person (one whose weakness is publicly known) to take the fall for them. This is what happens in the story of the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Jesus was not fooled!6

We can see even from these few examples that the ego is very crafty. When faced with a burden of guilt it will cut it down to pieces and hand over packets to some unsuspecting persons nearby. That  is exactly what Adam and Eve did.7

Laying It Down

We have been stuck in this game for ages, of trying to prove that we are good people.8 It has not worked. Some have even tried to ease the pain by arguing that there is no law!

The domain of religion is the closest that we ever got to a bit of a handle on guilt. For it is there that we were asked to take the packets, our tokens of guilt called sins and leave them, with the hope that they can be taken care of. That they will in fact be taken care of.

This our religions have been to us, from the priesthood of Aaron, to the sacrament of penance of the catholic, to traditional worship through ancestors, to worship services of the protestant churches. As Paul Tillich pointed out, modern Christianity itself has become a religion alongside other religions.9

As a religious institution, it has relapsed to old testament times when it comes to the handling of guilt. People in churches that are already guilt-ridden get loaded even more as a way of getting commitment from them, either financially or of participation. The reality of the guilt remains year after after year in the secret chambers of the mind.10

Then here is the thing: We do not find freedom by substituting one religion for another, but by embracing a whole new consciousness of redemption. The message of grace cuts trough all religions, including that of Christianity itself.9 For the old consciousness of guilt could only take us thus far and no further. We could not safely cross the bridge with it.

In the old state of things, we relied only on the conscience to tell us what is wrong and what is right. But we realize that the conscience has no access to the truth; It works only on the basis of the coding programmed in it. It simply compares action against its own code. But how reliable is the code in the conscience?

The effect of the old state of things is that we see everything not for what it is. We have an old, limited perception; A corrupted point of view. The conscience itself is part of that situation! Many times it is the conscience itself that needs cleaning up, and not necessarily a change of behaviour.  It must be cleaned and corrected from its archaic misconceptions. No, we cannot rely on the conscience itself to cross the bridge of guilt.

For it is there that we panic 'sorry sorry, I will not do it again'. And we have called it confession. That is a farce, and we know it. The real confession is that of opening up the heart about what is happening, letting the light of truth shine and reveal things as they are.

This is not to say we must now ignore the conscience. Indeed how can one ignore one's own thoughts? In vain we have been eating and drinking mind-altering substances to suspend the work of the conscience. It has not worked. Instead we got deeper into trouble. What we say here then is the opposite. As author Katie Byron puts it beautifully in her book on self-inquiry:
“When you realize that suffering and discomfort are the call to inquiry, you may actually begin to look forward to uncomfortable feelings. You may even experience them as friends coming to show you what you have not yet investigated thoroughly enough.”

In other words, behind every story and thought that brings pain or discomfort, there is the beautiful truth waiting to be discovered. This is so reliable anywhere, anytime. When the conscience raises a flag, it is time for an open conversation with the heart. There is something that needs to be understood. And this is part of the new consciousness.

This new perception of reality is not something we develop by egotistical means. Grace comes to us. It comes in that moment when we painfully need it, and have surrendered to our own helplessness.

As long as I am still trying to prove that I have not done anything wrong, or that someone else actually did the wrong, I am still caught up in the old perception.
As long as I feel I can do something to atone for what I have been accused of;
As long as I get angry and throw tantrums when accused of something;
As long as I take on myself suffering calculated as penance or self-punishment for the wrong I did, I am still imprisoned by the old consciousness of guilt. I need freedom desperately.

The time is now here when we can start laying down this burden. There is no longer a need to shuffle around packages of guilt to one another, a shifting of blame. It is all forgiven.11 There is no need to prove innocence.

We can start by giving up and letting go of our efforts of trying to be acceptable. The paradox of acceptance is that we are most acceptable in the moment when we are not trying to be acceptable. We are most lovable in that instance when we are not trying to be lovable to someone. 12

When we have let go of trying to prove a point either to God or to fellow human beings, it is like a new world opening. We realize then that the next person does not have to prove anything to us either. We can then let go of being hard on people around us, for they are just like us: accepted in spite of what we see as unacceptable in them.

The old consciousness was like one working with heavy tokens, either carrying them, or endlessly running from them . We can now move beyond these shadows to deal with the reality itself of our situation. We can bring an end to years of denial and start holding hands with the liberating truth. But that is only possible when we put on the new consciousness, which comes to us on the wings of grace.

1. Matthew 11:28 New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2. Katie, Byron; Mitchell, Stephen (2008-12-26). Loving What Is. Random House UK. Kindle Edition.
3. Berdyaev, Nikolai. The Meaning of The Creative Act. London: Semantron Press, 2009.
4. Dimitrov, Vladimir; Kopra, Kalevi. Dynamics Of Human Identity. Vladimir Dimitrov, 1998.
5. Challis, Tim. Real Guilt And Sinfulness. Tim Challis, 2010.
6. John 8:1-11
7. Genesis 3:11-13
8. Griffith, Jeremy. FREEDOM: The Liberation & Transformation of The Human Race Through the Breakthrough Biological Understanding of The Human Condition. Sydney: FHA Publishing and Communications Pty Ltd, 2009
9. Tillich, Paul. The New Being. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons , 1955.
10. Hebrews 10:1-3
11. 2 Corinthians 5:19; Hebrews 9:12
12. Byron, Katie; Katz, Michael. I Need Your Love – Is That True?. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005