And the LORD God formed humans of the dust of the ground, and breathed into the nostrils the breath of life; and we became a living soul.
Have you ever been sitting in silent prayer, finally overcome the monkey mind and then it happens, you hear that still small voice with an important message? But then, it wasn’t the feel-good choir of angels, in rays of sunshine. For me, it came more as a sharp LED flashlight, scoping out the corners of my shadow side, revealing something I had tried to tuck out of sight – prejudice.
We all have them, and from a brain perspective, stereotypes and prejudices are the brain’s way of taking vast amount of information and putting them into neat little piles that keep us from information overload. And in the purest form, it’s helpful. But it’s when we apply it to large groups of people without any analysis or check and balance that it becomes a problem.
While many of us are appalled at the idea of prejudice, I think we all have a demographic that we personally give ourselves permission to be prejudiced against. We may even try to justify these sweeping generalities by befriending a few token “others”. We can poke fun, or delight in their discomfort. Perhaps we are former members of that class and are even more “justified” in the cutting – yet witty – remarks. I really noticed this recently as I was with a group of folks watching the State of the Union address. There were cheers of delight as the frowns and sour expressions of those who “sat across the aisle” came into view on the TV screen. And my heart began to hurt. Because, I saw that in myself and it didn’t look very pretty. I walked to a quiet place in the desert night and wept.
And we people of peace have often given ourselves permission to dismiss those who we see as obstacles to true justice. Just a way to blow off steam in the midst of the struggle – right? Last week I had the great joy of being in a day long workshop with Paul Coutinho, SJ. It was a wonderful chance to listen to ideas of a God of love and understanding, one that calls us to be better in this world for this world. And isn’t that what the striving for justice is all about?
Of all the great things he shared that day, this is what really stood out for me. “Go and sin no more.” In my experience there are two camps, people who LOVE talking about sin and people who avoid talking about sin at all costs. A woman attending the workshop asked Paul, “How do you define sin?” He said, “Sin is when you forget who you are?” Huh? Run that one by me again. He said we were created in the likeness of God, that what God made was good, that we are the breath of God. Oh, now I get it. So when we forget that we are the breath of God and others are the breath of God, then we do things that hurt others and ourselves.
So in that moment of clarity, knowing that I have justified certain prejudices of those I deem hurtful, then I have forgotten who I am. And I can either embody shame and probably not change my actions, or I can exhale and work to live into the goodness of the breath of God. Go and sin no more (John 8:11). And when I forget who I am, I know there are others who will remember and walk with me and remind me to just breathe.
On the path,