Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Passionate Sinning

"The worst sin - perhaps the only sin - passion can commit is to be joyless." - Dorothy Sayers.

I've been periodically haunted by this particular saying since I read it in Gaudy Night as a teenager.  I say haunted because it comes back to me, either in memory or in some random reminder, and each time it hovers before my mind, teasing me to pursue it to its furthest logical ends.

But I dare not, because I am afraid of where it might take me. It's hypocritical of me, I know. I have so often urged my students not to be afraid of the truth and the hard questions that lead there.

Part of me looks at this saying and says, oh yes, that certainly is true. There must be joy in the passion, whatever its object, or passion becomes obsession, possessiveness, exploitation, infatuation and eventually destruction. The object of passion will either be enslaved or become the enslaver and slavery is a hallmark of sin. Joyless passion would be deadly - another hallmark of sin.

But another part of me recoils from the implications of that "only."  Is joylessness the only sin passion can commit? If I do what I know (or believe) to be sin, but I do it passionately and take joy in it - and I'm supposing real joy here, not simply ephemeral pleasure mistaken for joy - does the joyfulness wipe out all the sin? I'm very much afraid, and afraid is not just a figure of speech, that it does not. To do what we know is wrong, even for the right reasons and with fervent, joyful passion...no, I cannot believe that is true because I see in it a license to choose to sin.

Actually, I see a logical loop developing. If joy = not sin, then that might eliminate all sinful passions from the start. If so, then it would be impossible to sin joyfully. Either one would discover that there was in reality no joy in the passion, or one would find that the passion was joyful and therefore not truly a sin.

But what an awful risk that poses to the desiring soul. Sayer's words imply a massive, awe inspiring, knee weakening freedom. It's like being presented with a great cliff and told "Leap into the abyss. So long as you keep a grip on joy, you will land safely." Or is joy rather a signal beacon along a rocky shore dotted with a thousand false lights that present themselves as joy, but are not truly joy? If we are free in Christ to pursue our passions, whatever they are, so long as they are joyful... Where might we go?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

After Sept 11th...

Sunday was, as it should have been, a day of solemn remembrance. Many of us posted those memories to facebook as a way of sharing and memorializing. I couldn't bring myself to write out my memories of that day - they are both too much and too little to say in a facebook post. I've never been a New Yorker. I was in Columbus, OH when it happened. My roommate and I sat on our living room couch and cried while we watched the towers fall on tv, over and over until we could believe it wasn't just a bad special effect in a cheesy day time movie.

But today, I want to remember another day. A day after Sept 11th. The first day I got on a plane after it all happened. I was flying home for Christmas. The lines were long, the security procedures were still crisp with newness and a sense of purpose. We fellow passengers lined up and marched, shoes in hand, proud to be doing our little bit for duty, for country, for the safety of our fellows and ourselves.

And when I got to my seat on the plane the woman in the aisle seat was plainly Muslim. She had on the full chador and hijab minus the niqab, meaning that she was covered head to toe, with only her face and fingers showing. She was young looking. Somali. And reading from her Koran with intense devotion. She was also plainly terrified.

Was she afraid of being a Muslim on a plane full of jumpy fellow passengers? Probably. I would have been. Was she afraid to fly so soon after the September tragedies? I was. Most of us were. The tension ib the plane was palpable. Or was she simply afraid to fly? Many people are. Or perhaps she carried some other, secret sorrow that no one else could have guessed.

But there she sat right beside me, rocking just a touch, lips moving silently as she cradled her book in her hands. Another, dark haired woman joined us, squeezing into the window seat. As she buckled her seatbelt she and I exchanged quick, nervous smiles. I leaned back in my own seat, eyes half closed and prayed for safety as the engines roared underneath us. And the dark haired woman beside me pulled out her rosary, kissed it, and closed her eyes in prayer.

We rose into the sky, each of us in that row calling out with our hearts, "Hear me, merciful God. Keep me safe."