O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect from the Second Sunday in Lent, Book of Common Prayer)Of all moments in a person's story, I find those moments when one experiences metanoia (the turning of the mind, the center of their person) the most moving and provocative. There is a moment of transformation of perception, of self, that means that the person you were is no longer "there," and the person you are becoming is being born before our very eyes. That moment comes in all shapes and sizes, and I am sure you can find a few of them in your own life. For some people, that moment meant the beginning of their path to sobriety. For others, it meant coming to terms with a harsh diagnosis. For some it is the realization that life is ending, and that what comes next is coming, and right soon. For others, it may come with simply rising to a new day, to a renewal of perspective that makes the air taste a little sweeter, that makes the morning a more welcome companion.
The moment of metanoia can be as gentle as a breeze, or as cataclysmic as the very crack of doom. What it means to the person experiencing it matters more in many ways than its arrival. It means that a person CAN evolve and change. It means that we ARE ABLE to see reality more truly and to love it more fully. It means that we are not as resolute and isolated in ourselves as we assume most of the time. It means that God is still at work in us and around us, using our moment to heal and transform us...and those around us as well. For when one person experiences healing through metanoia, then the whole Body is brought closer to healing in toto. It means, for many if not most who experience true metanoia a sense of being reborn to a new life, a new beginning.
Most folks assume that repentance means being sorry for something, anything, that we choose that is "wrong" and "bad." We are sure that it requires shame and sorrow, in fitting measure...and that it is the required posture of subjection before restitution, or restoration might be negotiated. Yes? To be repentant means more than just being sorry...because that is just not enough. One has to REALLY feel sorry, to feel shame...and then to labor to have the wronged one come to a place where they MIGHT consider forgiveness. The down side to that calculation of shame? IT is a hole we just can't ever truly dig ourselves out of in the end. The shame always circles back on us. The wrong winds up getting repeated. The inevitable stumble and fall of the person, shamed, means deeper and deeper circles of despair and loss.
If we take on the obverse understanding of that assumption, if we dispell the assumption of "if" we wrong/stumble/wound and instead accept that "when" is the better truth, then another path opens up to us.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God's help. (BCP, p. 304)Repentance is more than just being, or saying, that we are sorry. It is the very conscious practice of that moment of "whenever" in the Baptismal Covenant question noted above. It is a continual and mindful practice of submission to God, rejection of the evil in, alongside and around us that is NOT God, and then a turning of the self back to God.
When the Church and its members commit, and admit, to the Baptismal Covenant call to life lives of repentance, it means that we are willing and open to embrace that we are flawed, broken and stumbling people who allow God to be an agent in and through us to lead us into healing, restoration and centeredness in a grace that is not earned, but conferred in an act of love by a God who creates, redeems and sanctifies us.
When we live our lives with open eyes and hearts, as falling people being raise up in the light of God's forgiveness, we show the world what it's really like to walk in a sacred way, reborn as God's own children of light. When we fall down again and again, and God raises us up again and again we demonstrate God's infinite patience. It means hope, and justice, for the systems we admit are as flawed and broken as we are. It means we know to our core that nothing is truly finished until the last broken and lost person is returned and raised up in the light of God's loving embrace.
Repentance, metanoia, the re-turning of the self to God, to the other in our lives. It is perhaps the single most effective tool God has ever crafted for the benefit of the whole Body of the human race.