Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Repentance: Beyond the Mind that We Have

Rev. Canon Jan Cope
Oscar Wilde once famously quipped, "I can resist anything but temptation." In the season we celebrate as Lent, we may feel inclined to reflect on our lives as a regular cycle of temptation, sin, repentance, and forgiveness. In his book, Speaking Christian, Marcus Borg writes that most Christians associate the word repentance with sin and forgiveness.
"When we have sinned, we are to repent of our sins so that we can be forgiven." (Speaking Christian, page 157). Borg offers an alternative historical view of repentance by reminding us that the Hebrew word for repentance means "to turn" or "return," and that the Greek word for repentance means “to go beyond the mind that we have.” I can only speak for myself, but those biblical translations and meanings offer more hopeful possibilities to consider in our Lenten journey than forty days of wearing sack cloth with ashes on our heads! 

Yes, we are invited to “...the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (BCP, page 265). Part of meditating on God’s holy Word, however, is exploring the richness and fullness of meaning in scripture. What would it mean to return to God, the true and eternal source of light and life? What would it mean to “go beyond the mind that we have,” seeing our lives and world shaped by God as known to us through Jesus Christ? Those possibilities sound like a journey we would all want to take!

Borg writes, 
Forgiveness is not dependent upon repentance. We are forgiven already, loved and accepted by God. We don’t need to do anything to warrant God’s love. But repentance – turning and returning to God, going beyond the mind that we have – is the path that leads to transformation. (Speaking Christian, page 159)

During our Lenten journey, we rise up from our knees, with ashes fading from our foreheads, to live more fully into the new life that is ours in Jesus Christ. Turning and returning suggests facing forward to the true source of life. In the wonderful words of Frederick Buechner, “True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ than to the future and saying ‘Wow!’” (Wishful Thinking, page 79) Wow indeed!

Jan Cope is the vicar at Washington National Cathedral. How will you pursue a journey of repentance throughout Lent? Share your thoughts and responses on Facebook.