Tuesday, 24 January 2017

An All-Embracing Perfection

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in
(Leonard Cohen)
In his most recent column in the January edition of Huron Church News, the Rev. Jim Innes closes his column, Goof Bravely: the joy of making mistakes, with the above quote from Leonard Cohen.  I was most please to see this reference by a fellow priest who happens to be the Rector of the congregation I attend.

This quote is my favourite lyric from my favourite song writer (I have been and remain an unapologetic Leonard Cohen fan most of my lifewhich is a long time indeed).  It is from his song Anthem which was in his album The Future released in 1992.  These few lines reveal a depth of wisdom that has resonated with me ever since I heard it.  It also cracks open a challenge I have had (and still do); that is the desire for perfection. That is also a challenge which plagues many people.  It may surprise those of you who know me that I have what might be described as a perfection complex. 

I had not consciously thought of myself as a perfectionist as I did not strive to do many things in my life perfectly, as I believed that perfectionists engaged the world.  They, I believed, would spend endless time and countless energy to ensure that whatever they did was perfect.  I did not attempt to engage in things that I believed would require me to be a perfectionist.  This is true for instance in things that required me to do work with my hands such as woodwork.  I knew it was not possible and I therefore did not undertake them. There are many other aspects of life that I probably avoided in part because I knew I could not do them perfectly.    

In his column, Rev. Jim addresses this problem very well.  He notes that, “The fear of making mistakes will lead us to some terrible consequences, or that making mistakes is a sign of weakness or incompetence.”  This approach to perfection is enabled and even made worse by Christianity.  As Jim notes, “This guilt driven life sentence can unfortunately find validation in our Christian churches”. 
Christian theology tells us to strive for perfection.  For example, the Gospel of Matthew 5: 48 is traditionally translated as ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’.  This seems to contradict much of Jesus’s teaching which, for example, is addressed to the crowd not to stone the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus said only the one without sin could cast the first stone knowing that they (and we) are all sinful and need repentance.  An alternative translation to the passage is proposed by Neil Douglas-Klotz in his book A Prayer for the CosmosThe author looks at the original Aramaic, Jesus native language, and translates the passage, “Be all-embracing, as you heavenly Father is all-embracing.” 

This passage and similar ones direct Christians to seek perfection and the understanding of God, as all good.  I could not reconcile them with my understanding of humanity as creatures of God, created in the image of God.  This new translation reconciled that dichotomy for me and brought my desire for perfection into a conscious awareness. 

This understanding enables me to reconcile these passages.  We are to seek wholeness not perfection.  We need the cracks in our lives.  That is how the light comes in; Hallelujah (but that is another Leonard Cohen song and another story). 

I will close with a quote from Richard Rohr:
One great idea of the biblical revelation is that God is manifest in the ordinary, in the actual, in the daily, in the now, in the concrete incarnations of life. Our experiences of ordinary life will transform us if we are willing to experience them fully. This is quite different than much of religion’s emphasis on being pure, perfect, or correct to find God. Jesus stands religion on its head! In fact, some historians of religion claim that Jesus proclaimed the end of religion. (Of course, we quickly undid this mistake!)  Richard Rohr Daily Meditation January 13, 2017

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