- springtime in the desert -
Yesterday afternoon as I waited at a signal light while driving my car, I looked up and saw a bumper sticker on the car ahead of me that read: Repent! I was struck by how much baggage that one simple word carries for me.
Like many people, as I grew up I was taught that if I did not repent of my sins, God would be mad at me, and unless I repented of my sins I may even be banished to hell when I died. The word repent was a dire warning that I had better “get my act together or else!”
Over the years I have come to understand that word repent in a very different light - it isn’t a threat or a warning but a hope-filled promise.
According to the Christian Gospels when Jesus first began to preach and teach, the very first word he uttered was repent, but this was immediately followed by the admonition and believe the good news! The word repent comes form a Greek word that means change your mind, and this is essentially the core message Jesus taught: Change your mind, and instead of believing in bad news, believe the good news. The good news Jesus proclaimed is that everything and everyone belong to one another, we all swim in an ocean of universal love and we are never left alone. The good news is that everyone counts, everyone and everything has value and no one is less important than anyone else.
I am reminded of something the renowned monk and author,Thomas Merton, once wrote as he described his experience of a time when he changed his mind and believed the good news.
One day, while standing in the center of a busy shopping district,
I was suddenly overcome with the realization that I loved
all those people walking around,
that they were mine and I was theirs,
that we could not be alien to one another even though we were strangers.
It was like waking up from a dream of self-isolation.
Yes, the whole illusion of separation is a dream.
As I looked at that bumper sticker on the car ahead of me yesterday, I smiled to think of what repentance actually means; to repent means to wake up from the illusion of separation, I repent when I change my mind about being isolated and alone and instead believe the good news that we are intimately connected to one another.
Although the Buddha never used the word repent, he certainly taught about repentance. After he himself woke up from his dream of isolation and was enlightened with the universal truth that everything and everyone is interdependent and interconnected, he pointed his disciples to a way of enlightenment, teaching them to wake up and believe this good news.
The other day I came across a true story about some people who were “lost at sea” floating on a raft a few miles from the shore off the coast of Brazil. By the time they were rescued, these people had almost died from dehydration and yet, interestingly enough, all during the time they were “lost at sea” the water they were floating on was actually fresh water that had come out into the ocean by the rush of a strong river current. They believed the bad news that they were floating on a sea of undrinkable salt water and had given up hope for survival, ignoring the good news of the refreshing and life giving water they were floating on all along.
Priest and author Richard Rohr says:
The problem is that we think we are separated from one another.
I think he’s right, this is exactly what our problem is and the way we solve this dilemma is by repenting, by waking up from the illusion of separation and believing the good news that we all belong to one another.
There is a line from the Sufi poet, Rumi:
They say there is a window from one heart to another
But how can there be a window where no wall exists
Repent, believe the good news!