Saturday, June 02, 2012

Healing from Shame and Unworthiness

Healing from Shame and Unworthiness

"One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself if this man were a prophet he would have known what kind of woman this is who is touching him-that she is a sinner. Jesus spoke up…" Luke 7:36-40)

The central wound of our soul, our spiritual consciousness, is the illusion that we are separate, cut off from God. Separateness is the central knot of our spiritual suffering and while it may manifest in a unique form in each of us, it is the unraveling of this knot that is the dynamic of the life’s spiritual journey. The illusion of separateness is the only original sin. All the other spiritual wounds we carry are some aspect or manifestation of separateness. And we offer and bring them all into healing through our practice of deepening communion with Christ. Christ came to heal that wound. And He comes into our life to heal that wound in each of us.

Shame and unworthiness are part of the weave of the knot of separateness.  The Gospel story of Luke here speaks to this fabric and how we break free from both the internal and external aspects of this injurious bondage. In this story in Luke' s Gospel a woman reputed to be of loose sexual morals approaches Yeshua in the house of a respected man and anoints Him with oil. She ministers to Yeshua by washing and wiping his feet with her tears and hair. The woman is condemned by the men in the house, and Yeshua is condemned for permitting her presence and touch. (An important footnote here is that the object of shame here is a woman. It is noteworthy that one doesn't see the men with whom this woman has presumably slept, so often the case throughout history.) Those with power decide who is to be shamed and who are not. In the story Yeshua turns the criticism back to the men of power and high state and points to the real source of dignity and worth in us, our power to choose loving kindness in serving others. In this story and many others in the Gospels Yeshua confronted the powerful of his time on this point, and paid for it with his life.

Every reading of this story brings me to a deeper respect for this woman. She has pointed the way to healing and freedom for all of us. Her only difference from us is that she has been "caught" or publicly reviled. She has been willing to look and to see how her misdirected needs have been injurious. She has brought her real need to the One in whom she can find completion. In her act of adoration of His Presence and her act of self-giving love in service to him she finds the path to redemption and resurrection. The shaming and judgements of others no longer matter. Would that all of us could find such healing release from the darkness of our shame and awaken to such joy in our life! In Christ she has uncovered a worth and dignity that was never lost.

Christ the Source of Our Dignity and Worth
All of us are that woman. All of us sin. We sin when we "miss the target,' when we misdirect our true needs and desires. Shame and unworthiness is a mistaken judgement against our person, based on the illusion of separateness. We have worth and dignity from our nature as children of God. We are the offspring of the Most High. We partake in the divine nature. Our worthiness is established from our very being (spirit ) in God.  Our consciousness and behavior are what is in question. It is a mistake to confuse who we are with what we do.  “You are flawed, you are broken, you are rejected, you are unacceptable, you are unlovable;" rather than, "What you did was injurious or destructive." Shame is a method of control, which works by withdrawing love and respect to exact control in the family or in the community. Shame as method of parenting or social control, reinforces the spiritual wound of unworthiness and separateness. The effect of shaming on the soul is that we are led to hide our brokenness, to hide our sins. We heal spiritually when we bring our sins and dark places to conscious examination and insight, to open to healing grace through contrition and conversion, and thereby bring them to the Light of the mercy and love of Christ. In the darkness and the hidden places of the soul festering wounds and sickness remain unhealed because of shame and unworthiness.

If the human race were serious about true change we would eliminate child abuse and especially the abusive words of shaming and unworthiness that parents use on children. Hidden sins and hidden wrongs are with us all. In shame based secrecy families are filled with them: “Don’t tell about this," or  "You don’t want people to know.” How often the crime of child abuse, battering, and sexual abuse is hidden under the injunction of shame and the fear of being seen and judged by others.

Healing Our Dark Places
Moral salvation is the re-ordering of our instinctual and mental life around the spiritual center of the heart and therefore the Heart of Christ. Yeshua says that unitive Love is the moral foundation of all human life. If our instinctual life, sexuality, and otherwise is hidden in shame, then there is no possibility of the integration of human sexuality or other aspects of our humanity into the moral realm of the Heart of Love. The transformative journey in Prayer of the Heart is the uncovering of the dark broken places in our soul, in our consciousness, that desperately need the Light of Christ and the healing of His Love. When we are in the grip of shame, we hide these places and are afraid to trust them to His merciful touch. The great failings we see in religious people, well-intentioned people around us, in religious communities, in family life, in public life often occur in secret. When the hidden places in the soul go unhealed and unconverted, these inclinations reach up and "bite" us.  They are acted out, and result in injurious/sinful and addictive patterns of behavior. Such behaviors result when well intentioned people try to create a idealized persona deserving of social approval, while being unwilling to look into the darkness of their own soul.  To be willing to uncover and reveal our dark places, and to lift them up in humble acceptance, surrendering them fully in love to the Heart of Christ is the real inner work to be done. Too few religious people are willing to do it. The woman who sits at the feet of Yeshua in communion with him in utter trust and receptivity, is a model and inspiration for all of us.

God's Self-Giving Love is Not Earned
In contrast with the values of our culture the Gospel teaches the primacy of unconditional love and mercy. In our culture we decide who is worthy and unworthy based on wealth and class.  Poverty has always been a sin, especially in our current national culture. We hear too often from the pulpit and talk-radio that the poor are poor because of moral degradation. We hear that the blessings and comforts of life are earned by our "rightness" with God according to the theologies of abundance. Even though the society we live in has adopted a theology where the rich are blessed and the poor are cursed, it is not so in the Gospel. And it is not so in our spiritual life. The parables of the prodigal child and the laborers in the vineyard, reveal to us that God's Self-Giving is not earned, it is pure gift. We must simply be willing, receptive, and open to receive His Gift of Self. In Yeshua we know God's gift of Self. In Yeshua we are "oned" in God. In Yeshua we live the Risen Life of Love.

Life is developmental learning; without mistakes we don’t learn. Without self-examination we do not learn from the consequences of our errors and grow and become transformed. It is in crisis that we open and receive the grace of contrition, tears, and conversion. We don’t allow communion with Christ if our consciousness is ruled by shame. The woman who anoints Yeshua with the oil of her love, has broken free of shame to find communion with her Beloved.  In her liberated act she says, " I don't care, I don't care any more about the judgements of these people. I only care about giving myself in love to the One who has given Himself to me in love so deeply." Communion with Christ has healed her shame and restored her dignity and self worth. Her desire to be one with her Beloved, is also our desire. And we can pray that we should be so fully consecrated and given to the love of Christ, our Beloved.

Ceaseless Contrition and Conversion- The Road to Freedom
Ceaseless contrition and conversion is the way to freedom. The stunning reality is the Life of God rises up within us anew each moment. We can break free of past conditions, past wrongs, past injuries. Yeshua invites us with this astounding Good News to enter the limitless mercy of His Heart. His message is that it doesn't matter what we have done before. It doesn't matter what prison we are in of our own making or that the culture has made for us. All of us are free, liberated from all past conditions, to choose His love and communion in His Heart in the present moment.

In our practice of Prayer of the Heart, we can breathe Yeshua; we can give ourselves in innocence and joy to the communion of love with the One who gives us our worth and dignity. It is pure gift, already given to receive. We possess it already. In his touch we discover it again and again.
St. Symeon the New Theologian spoke of it this way.
"Where all our person, all over, every hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly real.
and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark,
harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Him transformed.
And recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light.”

(Mitchell, The Enlightened Heart, p.38)