Friday, March 22, 2013

The Garden of Even: Tracing the Origin of Our Common Bond

Since September, I've been meeting every Monday with a group of twelve women as part of a spiritual formation course called The Journey. These friends, ranging in age from their mid-twenties to sixties, have become very dear to me. Each of them sparkle with unique radiance and genuine beauty. It's been such a pleasure and joy to get to know them.

As part of The Journey, we did a post-it note exercise where each person captured her life story on a timeline and then wrote it out in narrative form. We then spent a Saturday and several subsequent Mondays sharing our narratives with one another. As you might imagine, it's been powerful! No words adequately describe the holy ground we have entered with each one.

Since our story-telling concluded, I've found myself meditating on the whole experience--on the themes I've heard, trying to distill them. There's one in particular that has come to the forefront; a theme that's honestly surprised me. Let me try to describe it.

In story after story, I heard women describe the common experience of feeling shame. It didn't matter whether she was born and raised in a two-parent, loving family or a home with intense chaos and horrifying abuse. At some point in her young life, she expressed a belief that there was something about her, something in her that made her peculiarly shameful and unworthy of love.

I've read about the concept of original sin; the idea that we are born with a disposition toward doing bad things. What struck me from hearing our stories was not merely our compulsion to do wrong but our deep-seated belief that there was something wrong with us; that we were marred and shameful misfits.

I guess what I found so surprising was that it didn't seem to matter much the kind of home in which we were raised. Obviously, no home or parent is perfect. But several of us were raised in somewhat stable, loving homes, and it honestly didn't seem to make a lot of difference. We still recalled feeling, at a young age, an intense and unrelenting shame toward ourselves.

So, I've mused, "Is this really our common bond and original sin? Our rejection of God's love because of shame?"  

What's more, as I think of each story, it appears that we spend our adult lives trying to overcome the belief that we are beyond being loved. Each woman in our group described her own quest to overcome the self-deprecating belief of her unworthiness to be loved by God.

I think it takes a miracle to heal from the deep shame that each of us confessed. And in the last several weeks, I have witnessed miracles--many of them, still very much in process. In fact, mine is very much in process, too. Each day, I notice that one of my most formidable challenges is to let the miracle of God's love in.   

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