“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.“
by Giacomo Leopardi
This lonely knoll was ever dear to me
and this hedgerow that hides from view
so large a part of he remote horizon.
But as I sit and gaze my thought conceive
intermediate spaces lying beyond
and supernatural silences
and profoundest calm, until my heart
almost becomes dismayed. And as I hear
the wind come rustling through these leaves,
I find myself comparing to this voice
that infinite silence: and I recall eternity
and all the ages that are dead
and the living presence and its sounds. And so
in this immensity my thought is drowned:
and in this sea is foundering sweet to me.
– Translated from the Italian by Jean-Pierre Barricelli
“Darkness made me fumble
for the key
to a door
that’s wide open.”
from Luke Harms’ blog, Living in the Tension
There is a conversation happening. It’s an important one, birthed out of frustration over the modesty wars, purity culture, and a whole host of issues that are, I think, concrete manifestations of our misunderstanding of notions like love and grace. Also, I think it’s part of a broader conversation about shame and guilt versus hope and redemption, about oppression versus freedom.
There’s just one simple idea I want to add to the conversation. I want to shout this from the aisle of every church, put it in all caps on every internet message board and start a kickstarter campaign to buy some Super Bowl add time.
“There is no place for shame in the Kingdom of God.”
This Kingdom is built on a foundation of implacable love, every stone a story of redemption, of hope, of restoration. Our Cornerstone is Immanuel, God with us, and scandalous grace is the mortar that binds us all together in our shared heritage of son-and-daughter-ship.
Shame though, at its base, is about fear – fear of condemnation, of rejection, of not measuring up – but perfect Love – radical, self-sacrificing, other-embracing, redemptive Love – casts out all fear. Shaming then is nothing short of denying the primacy of this Love, and the power of grace. It says that God’s goodness, love, grace and kindness are not enough to draw us to repentance. It says that control, not love, is the nature of our relationship with God.
While Shame says “You can go no further because of what you’ve done,”
Grace says “I have already come all the way to you and further because of who you are to me.”
While Shame forces you into the darkness, to hide your face from the pain of condemnation,
Love lifts up your face and shines the light of redemption upon it.
Shame destroys. Grace restores. Love renews.
When Love breaks in, the shame that shackles us to the worst versions of ourselves is cast aside, and we are set free. Bonds are broken. In the solidarity of a family of sinners saved by grace, we find the hope that shame stole from us and the redemption that it denied us.
This truth seems to me to be no small thing, no simple platitude that utter lightly. It is not just a trifle to be put on a bracelet or a slogan to be splashed across a church bulletin. It’s a very real acknowledgement of the power of Love to break every chain, to heal every broken heart, to bind up every wound, to give rest to the weary, to save the world from itself.
When we preach shame, condemnation, guilt and oppression, our words ring cold and hollow, empty of the life-giving, words of that Truth. When we shame and condemn, we deny the power of the Gospel. We can never shame someone into the Kingdom of God, nor scare them into loving community, but Grace makes all things new, and Love makes whole that which was broken.
In the end, Shame says “We can’t even start until you fix these things…”
Love says, “It is already finished.”
“The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome. “
“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
“Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It’s like the tide going out, revealing whatever’s been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones. This is the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future. “
“They asked me what I wanted to be
and I said, forever amazed.”
– Naomi Shihab Nye