I posted last night’s essay, rather impulsively, without waiting, at 12:30am. The first thought I had on waking this morning was this:
Redemption isn’t about receiving love, it’s about giving love.
What? The other half of my brain responded. But that’s backwards.
As I pondered it more, this idea began to make more sense to me. I reflected again on the piece I read last night about the “penal-substitution theory of atonement.” The author proposes that Jesus didn’t die to balance some kind of cosmic account. He didn’t “pay our price” because that would mean God didn’t really forgive but just transferred our balance to someone else who paid. He died because he lived out his practice. Gently, relentlessly, he spoke over and over of God’s unbelievable love and forgiveness. This was so threatening to the powers that be that he was killed. He lived his practice of love even though it killed him.
Whether you believe that accounts of Jesus are literally true or not (for the record, I don’t really know and this doesn’t bother me), the Jesus of Biblical stories was indeed the perfect role model of love. He redeemed through his love. I consider myself a Christian (though others won’t because of that last parenthetical comment) because I endeavor to follow that example of living from love. (And am supported in this by Buddhist and Taoist teaching and meditation, especially, as they give practical direction on reigning in the ‘ego’ that so often gets in the way of that radical kind of love.)
Still, somewhere in my rational, Western mind, redemption has been sort of separate from love. Love is great and all but people need to be accountable.
This has been a major barrier in sorting things out with the-one-I-am-having-such-a-hard-time-loving. I realized that have demanded in a number of ways that he be accountable for his actions as a precondition for my continuing to show loving-kindess towards him. I can pray for his happiness and well being but I still, somewhere deep down, want him to pay.
I have been looking at the other person as being the one in need of redemption and forgiveness. He’s the one who did wrong, right?
I get heaps of support for this. Righteous anger and disappointment are reflected by all who care for my son and I. And, indeed, I want justice, I want consequences, I want him to know that he has wronged us and suffer for it.
Of course that’s right.
Except for this. As I realized this morning, all evidence to the contrary, I am actually not in a position to judge him–his motivations, intentions, or worthiness. My practice is acting and living out of love and equanimity. It’s what I aim for, continually move toward and back to.
The situation, as it stands, where I stand, is that I am the one in need of redemption. I have stepped off of my path of love and into the murky, dangerous realm of the cosmic balance sheet. I am mired in the muck, tangled up in the twining roots of trees that choke out the sun and hide all manner of creepy crawly things that bite.
I have felt stuck here for a long time.
What struck me this morning is that release from this stuckness – a practical and spiritual redemption – is readily available.
All I am required to do is to return to the path of kindness, gentleness, compassion, equanimity, and love regardless of the other’s actions.
Because, truly, that’s what Jesus did. He showed the way, loving even those who couldn’t see their worth and worthiness. Holding to the truth of the-Love-greater-than-we-can-imagine-or-understand even when it meant his execution and still not being held down by this – which is why we have Easter, right? – somehow rising up from destruction to live on eternally as The Inspiration to love.