“Repentance” Revisited in a Time of Trial

Lately I've been writing about the Greek word METANOIA ("meh-TAH-nee-ah"), translated 'repentance' (as in "Be repenting, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"), and how in the original language this is describing a fundamental change in mind-set, a change in outlook. Sometimes dramatic shifts can happen — for example, the alcoholic who wakes up in the gutter, has a religious experience and never drinks again. But other METANOIAs can be small — switching to taking the stairs instead of the elevator because it's healthier for the planet and my body. Small changes are not to be underestimated — they can really add up! "How do you move a mountain?" One shovel-full at a time is one approach.

One way of describing METANOIA is 'to change of how we habitually look at the world', or shorter: 'change of habit'. A 'habit' is something we do on automatic, and we need these habits badly — knowing how to walk is a 'habit' I learned as an infant, and not having to think about how to pick up my feet and not fall over is really useful. The challenge, however, is to keep the 'good' habits and reform those that don't serve God, neighbor, or myself. So, to me, "Be repenting, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" includes constantly assessing my habits. (I note that the form of the verb in Greek for 'be repenting' indicates that continual ongoing 'repenting' is in view, not a one time action.) If I am to "love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength," then I am constantly asking myself, "what habit of heart, soul, mind or body is most interfering with loving God and neighbor?"

To identify a less-than-helpful habit is one thing, changing it is quite another! The first step has to be to disrupt the old habit. It's possible to do that on our own volition (although that can be exceedingly difficult). Meanwhile, there are external crises, events, that disrupt out lives quite beyond our control, external events that upend our habits. (Do any come to mind?)

I am reminded of the ancient Chinese 'yin and yang' symbol:

Yin and Yang - Ancient History Encyclopedia

Important elements of this symbol are the dots: in the midst of the dark side of the image is a light dot — a seed of light. In the midst of the light side of the image is a dark dot — a seed of darkness.

So I share the fear of the Unknown we all face with Covid-19, and struggle to cope with all the disruptions we are facing. But in my better moments I also try to ask myself: is there something Good that can come of this? In the midst of all this darkness, is there a Seed of Light I can be nurturing? For myself? For my family? For my community? Many habits/habitual ways of doing things are already disrupted — might this be an opportunity to embrace some new ones? For the long term?

We already see that happening. Our church has embraced video and teleconferencing in a big way, and is forcing us to greatly expand our Internet presence. Even after this crisis has passed, I'm thinking that the skills and procedures we as a church are developing in response to this crisis will only serve us well into the indefinite future. I know my own family has started taking daily walks — something we've been "meaning to do" for some time now. But with our lives already disrupted in a big way, and with the necessity to get out of the house to minimize cabin fever, that has been much easier to do.

There's no getting around that the dark half of the yin/yang symbol is dark. We are in dark times, fearful and uncertain. But in the midst of all that Darkness there can be a little Candles of Opportunity, little Seeds of Light. I pray that in the midst of all this Darkness I can be awake enough to recognize these tiny seeds and nurture them.