Conversations 3.2: Obstacles to Union—A Relational Understanding of Sin
Volume 3:2 Spring 2005
“The guiding image for the Conversations Journal is a large table in front of a warm fire. Seated together are representatives from the prominent tributaries of Christian spirituality— incarnational, contemplative, evangelical, holiness, charismatic, and social justice. Each is participating in a dialogue, sharing with unusual transparency about authentic transformation and why it seems so difficult actually to become like Jesus.” (Editors, vol 3.2, 13) As we delve into another issue of Conversations, let that imagery invite your presence to the table as well. This month we’ll be studying the topic “Obstacles to Union: A Relational Understanding of Sin” from vol 3.2.
The writers and editors in this issue explored the theological concept of sin. Then, they took that assignment a step beyond explaining religious rhetoric, and dared to admit that there is a gap between understanding what sin is, and the spiritual experience of encountering obstacles in our desire to be close to God. Having invited contributors from various Christian traditions into the conversation, we consider more than just the traditional definition of what “sin” is. “For example, St. Ignatius reframed sin as less an act of rebellion than the consequence of not knowing and deeply trusting the love of God—love that brings with it the assurance that God wants our happiness and fulfillment more than we ever could. Julian of Norwich suggested something quite similar, proposing that sin is spiritual blindness, the failure to see the extravagant love of our Beloved.” (Benner, 5)
Contributors in this issue were asked to reflect on what in them blocks their response to their deepest longings. What followed was pages filled with words of people sharing openly and honestly about their desire to know God, and live a life that reflects the joy of being known and loved by him. Yet confessing that sin often causes them to become sidetracked or blocked from having those deep longings fulfilled. As Larry Crabb puts it, “For too long we’ve defined sin behaviorally, not relationally. Sin has become a manageable problem, a list of things to do and a longer list of things not to do. Mere effort, and more of it, is the solution. We mistake smugness over not doing bad things, for spirituality. The cross is reduced to a symbol of surrender, to nothing more than a good example to follow.” (Crabb, 83)
A few highlights in this issue include an interview between David G. Benner and Alice Fryling about the enneagram as a tool for spiritual transformation. Judith Hougen’s beautifully written article “Community of the Broken” explores spiritual poverty as a means of forging deep community. We had the gift of receiving one of the last pieces Fr. Basil Pennington wrote, be sure to read it in the Life Together section. Of course, the feature articles aren’t to be missed; in O Taste and See, Juliet Benner provides a helpful meditation on the cover art, and Michael Glerup provides commentary on ancient Christian wisdom for a post-modern age. In the classroom, I’ve provided a few questions and exercises paired with the interview with Robert Barron.
“This issue explores sin as grasping and hiding; as seeking a greater good than intimacy with God; as requiring God to cooperate with us, not we with Him; as seeing ourselves, not God in the center.” (Crabb, 83) You’ll want to take your time with this issue, as with all things that form you spiritually. Conversations wasn’t intended to be consumed like a news magazine. When it was in publication, the frequency was twice annually, allowing time to digest the topic before the next one arrived. Many of our readers referred to it as the “coffee table book” they continued to revisit throughout the year. I invite you to pull up a chair and read this article and corresponding class that follows. Settle in, get comfortable, for a topic that should make us uncomfortable.
See class here.