Last night, as I was sleeping
I dreamt—marvelous error! —
That I had a beehive
Here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
Were making white combs
And sweet honey
From my old failures.
— Antonio Machado
It is still Lent as I write this; the 40 days’ journey to Resurrection is not yet complete, and lately some of “my old failures” have been jumping up and down, waving their arms, and saying, “Yoo hoo, I’m still here—and you are still a sinner!”
How wonderful if the salvation offered by Jesus Christ in the sacrifice he made for us on the cross always resulted in a sinless human being, free of the burdens of the past.
Unfortunately, even when we recognize our need for the grace of God, we don’t always use the spiritual freedom that comes with it. We find ourselves back in the sticky web of painful patterns, even if we have already said “Thank you for your offering of yourself, Jesus. I invite you into my life, confess my sins, and accept the freedom that your sacrifice made possible.”
Rather than continuing to feel guilt for the recurrence of those patterns, or sins, or “missing of the mark” — the meaning of the Greek word hamartia used for sin by the New Testament authors — we can let go of our sin stories to rejoice in the present moment, in the love of the resurrected Jesus Christ. We can take a look at how the mistakes of the past have taught us what we need not do any longer.
A friend, Peter Shor, studies with a nondenominational Christian spiritual teacher named David Hawkins, who suggests the following action when we find ourselves caught up in guilt, or other useless or harmful behaviors:
• Re-declare your decision to work toward enlightenment.
• Stop labeling the pain and just experience the energy as intensity.
• Transfer the intensity into intense prayer in the area of the heart.
• Intensify the prayer in the heart with every inhalation.
• Every exhale, surrender all attachments through the heart to God — the Infinite ocean of Consciousness and Unconditional Love.
• Repeat until there is nothing left but Love.
It is all too easy to dwell on the painful parts of our own lives, and the “againstments” we have toward others. Psychological burdens and pains may need professional treatment if they become unbearable. However, the spiritual aspects of our negative patterns, by means of trusting prayer, can be left with someone who can deal with them compassionately. Sometimes a licensed pastoral counselor, a minister, or a confessor can help us in the direction of letting go of negativity. Ultimately Jesus the Savior is the one to whom we say, “I can’t carry this any longer. Please carry it for me. Help me let go of this burden.”
Despite our imperfections we long for the Holy. The longing keeps reminding us that there are other ways to live our lives. We do not have to be caught over and over again in hurtful patterns. Recently, a painful interaction at a hospital bedside, where the only recourse was to be quiet, especially for the sake of the patient, taught me a lot. But first, the whole situation bugged me for days.
What bugged me most was not the behavior of the other person, but the fact that I had allowed myself to react inwardly with hurt feelings and anger when I knew that everyone involved was under stress. I talked it over with a friend, who had some valuable insights, and listened patiently. It also helped to remember something from the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, whose “little way” included bearing the unpleasant manifestations of others.
She wrote, in The Story of a Soul: “I have long believed that the Lord is more tender than a mother. I know that a mother is always ready to forgive trivial, involuntary misbehavior on the part of her child. Children are always giving trouble, falling down, getting themselves dirty, breaking things — but all this does not shake their parents’ love for them.” I can count on that love for myself — and see that my work as a Christian is to extend that same love to the person I allowed to bother me.
Such love distinguished Jesus Christ from the wonder workers and prophets who wandered the Holy Land in his time. He lived out the unshakeable love of the Father for his children, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice himself in the name of that love. St. Therese and many others modeled their lives on that love.
As the bees in Machado’s dream create sweetness, not from flower nectar, but from what has been bitter in our lives, so we can trust in Jesus and his love to make our spiritual lives sweet. His resurrection, celebrated on Easter, reminds us that we, too, can turn from the death of our failures, weaknesses and limitations to a life that looks toward the rising of the Easter sun. Peace be with you, Pilgrim. Look to the Light.
—The Rev. Georgia DuBose is the priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Harpers Ferry.