John of Kronstadt, a Russian priest of the nineteenth century, counseled his penitents to take their sins of omission and commission, when they get too heavy, and hang them on the cross. . . . Sometimes when I hang on the cross something which is too heavy for me, I think of it as being rather like the laundry lines under out apple tree, when I have changed all the sheets in the house. The wind blows through them, the sun shines on them, and when I fold them and bring them in in the evening they smell clean and pure. If I could not hang my sins on the cross I might tend to withdraw, to refuse responsibility because I might fail. . . . ~ Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season, p.48
Sweets wears a uniform at school. It’s simple. A collared white shirt and navy bottoms. When she gets home she changes her clothes. She changes again at night before going to bed, wearing the set of PJ’s that strike her fancy.
Bud’s school doesn’t require uniforms to be worn. Invariably he wears a hoodie with jeans. At the end of most school days, he’s broken through whatever 24-hour deoderant was lathered on that morning. His chosen product is with him at all times. He doesn’t change after school. If something smells off, he layers on more deoderant. It helps. A little.
Generally, the clothing they wear is worn once and put it in the hamper to be washed. Every few days the hamper overflows. It’s as if the clothing is reproducing like a Tribble on Star Trek. Rabbits seem celibate in contrast.
I change my clothes daily too. What I don’t do is place a pair of clean pants in the laundry after one wearing. A sweater may simply need to be aired out. And hats? I think the last time I washed a hat it turned into a yarmulke with a bill.
What kind of a life do you want to lead? A good one or bad? A good one of course! Given our consumerism and tendencies towards exceptionalism, it’s not just a good life that we want to lead. It’s the good life.
In that small shift we lose the Golden Rule and miss the point. We’re off target. That’s sin. It takes away from who we are. It stains us, the way dirt stains an article of clothing. If we are to hold onto the Golden Rule, living a good life and living well looks more like making life good for others.
We strive and we fall short. Either through words and actions that make another persons life harder or by choosing not to do or say things to make their lives better. During Lent many repent for these sins by giving something up as penance for their failure.
Sometimes that negative reinforcement works. Sometimes it’s just short term withholding. A minor punishment to make up for who and what we’re not. But what if we look at this season a little differently? What if we follow the advice of Joan Chittister and use the season as an “opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not.” What if we make it “not about penance. . . . [but] about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.”
“We have refused for years, perhaps, to even think about renewing old commitments that we’ve allowed to go to dust — spending time with the children, visiting our parents, exercising, taking time to read good books. We’ve closed our minds, maybe, to the thought of reconciling with old friends whom we have hurt. . . . Lent is the time to let life in again.”
Perhaps it’s time to treat our sin the way Sweets treats her clothing. If it stinks, don’t lather on another layer of deoderant. Send it right to the spiritual hamper! With laundry everything comes out in the wash. Yes, sometimes you have to pre-treat and if you don’t read the label or think, an item might be permanently changed. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred? Your favorite shirt comes out as good as new. It’s not new, but that doesn’t matter, it is fresh and clean and light. Like dirt, sin washes out. And that ninety-ninth time when something changes you forever? That’s character.