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Scrupulosity: Caught up in the mirrors

by davesandel on May 16th, 2021

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2021      (today’s lectionary)

Solemnity of the Ascension

Scrupulosity: Caught up in the mirrors

In my first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up.

I cannot help but tell this story, replete with quotes from James Agee’s autobiographical character Richard, whom he holds up for microscopic view the day Christ died. It’s my story too. When I hold it up for God’s unflinching view, I feel quickly paralyzed by my guilt and reverence, my carnality and held-up-holy spirit, by the endless mirrors of my mind.

It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.

Get ready for one long sentence:

It began to occur to him that not many people would even know this for the terrible sin it was, or would feel a contrition so deep, or would have the courage truly and fully, in all of its awful shamefulness to confess it: and again the strength and the self-esteem fell from him and he was aghast in the knowledge that still again in this pride and complacency he had sinned and must still again confess; and again that in recognizing this newest sin as swiftly as it arose, and in repenting it and determining to confess it as well, he had in a sense balanced the offense and restored his well-being and his self-esteem; and again in that there was evil, and again in the repenting of it there was good and evil as well, until it began to seem as if he were tempted into eternal wrong by rightness itself or even the mere desire for rightness and as if he were trapped between them, good and evil, as if they were mirrors laid face to face as he had often wished he could see mirrors, truly reflecting and extending each other forever upon the darkness which their meeting, their facing, created, and he in the dark middle between them, and there was no true good and no true safety in any effort he might ever make to realize or repent a wrong but only a new temptation, which his very soul itself seemed powerless to resist; for was not this sense of peace, of strength, of well-being, itself a sin? Yet how else could a forgiven or forgivable soul possibly feel, or a soul in true contrition or self-punishment? (p. 79)

Paul says, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

I throw up my hands in despair.

Richard cuts to the chase. “I’m a fool to even try, he groaned to himself.”

Paul, Richard and I agree. Removing myself from the endless reframes of shame and pride is impossible.

Everything goes wrong, he realized. Everything anyone can ever do for himself goes wrong. Only His Mercy. That’s what he died for. That’s what He’s dying for today. Nothing anyone can do but pray. O God, he prayed, be merciful unto me, a sinner. Let me not feel good when I am good. If I am good. Let me just try to be good, don’t let me feel good. Don’t let me even know if I’m good. Just let me try.

There it is! An oh-so-slim path out of the maze of mirrors. It’s OK to try.

And in this humility, aware that it was of a true and pure kind which was new to him, he felt a flash of relief, well-being, pride: and tightening his shut eyes, cried out in despair within himself, There it is again! O God make it go away. Make it not mean anything. O God, what I can’t help, please forgive it.

Again, the opening. He confesses what he cannot avoid: his shame of self, his pride in his awareness of that shame, and at last at last at last he throws himself into the hands of God.

All my trust I put in Thee, he whispered aloud. He found that he was drenched with sweat and as short of breath as if he had been running. He felt weak and quiet.

Richard is out, free of the mirrors, no longer reflecting back in self-consciousness to every step he’s taking. For the moment, at least, he can rest.

All my trust I put in Thee. He could feel the words sincerely and quietly now yet at the same time they meant nothing to him. All my trust I put in Thee, he repeated silently. O let me not fail thee. Tonight. This very night.

Perhaps this story breaks up inside your soul like mine. But we’ve gone on now long enough on this day of Christ’s ascension into heaven. Go out somewhere and watch the birds. Fly a kite. Look up. The sky is not falling. The sky calls for us to rise.

Wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak … and when he had said this, he was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.

(Acts 1, Psalm 103, 1 John 4, John 14, John 17)


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