Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Isaiah 43:18-19:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

If you were to ask me what the "big three" issues that interfere with our relationship with God and have the greatest potential to paralyze us on our spiritual journey, it would be a tossup between "fear," "shame," and "guilt."

I thought the above Depression-era venereal disease poster was perfect to describe how shame works. Like a venereal disease, shame sets up shop in a "local" fashion--we suffer the primary infection of it somewhere specific in our soul, which can progress to a secondary lesion that can flare up and have re-occurrences in that area of our psyches. If left unattended or untreated, it eventually becomes systemic. In "primary shame" our response is, "I'm sorry for what I did," but in "tertiary shame" our response morphs to, "I'm sorry for who I am."

Shame's other similarity to venereal disease is, just like syphilis or gonorrhea, it can be passed on to those who share a certain level of psychological intimacy with us, and the next generation. I truly believe the abused children in this world suffer because of shame that the abuser suffered.

That's the problem with shame. It gets passed along so silently, so pervasively, but the effect is that it can distort things so drastically. It affects our vision when it comes to mirrors.

When we are feeling "normal" in terms of our self-image, we can look at ourselves honestly in the mirror and accept what we see as pretty much okay. But shame changes our abilities to see in mirrors. It affects our sight in a way that the mirror appears distorted, and of multiple images, much like the "hall of mirrors" in a carnival spook house. What was once one mirror becomes many mirrors, and in all of them we appear fat or ugly.

Shame distorts something good and God-given in us--our ability to feel remorse enough to have the courage to change things in our lives. It deadens our ability to move towards the light of God. Instead of seeing something we feel sorry over, and desire to rectify, and muster up the courage to change, with God's help, shame attacks us inwardly and eats upon our souls. Shame makes us hollow caricatures of ourselves. The other problem is that because we are creatures of reason, skill, and intellect, we have the power of memory. We remember our shame, and it can grow if too many similar shameful experiences pile up in us over time.

But this is where spiritual practices that focus on the words of the Bible can help us to catch shame in its "primary infection" stage, as well as palliate the shame that has already been ingrained in us. When we read ahead on the Scripture lessons for Sunday, when we use the Daily Office or a Scripture-based devotional for our ongoing spiritual practice, we have opportunities to read and reflect on the word of the Lord, and can use this reflective time to transform our lives. It gives us a better mirror. James chapter 1 explains this process. Let's take a look at verses 23-25:

"For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing."

We can see a truer image of ourselves when we hear, pray about, and respond to God's word. We can see our holy and true selves--the selves that God sees.

Almighty God--
When you show us the light of your countenance,
let it illuminate the mirror that is our most true and holy self.
Shine your light upon us so brightly,
That the shadows that remain on it are of no consequence.
When we stare into those old, distorted mirrors--
those mirrors that are always with us as flawed human beings--
Allow enough of that light to reflect glimmers of truth
and soften the hard image of ourselves that those mirrors reflect.
We ask this in the name of the light that enlightens the nations,
your son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


As usual your words leave me dumbstruck... in the best possible way. I have been locked in a deep embrace with self-loathing today as I steeped in the River Shame. What timing.

Your wisdom is like a healing light or balm, pressed into the wound. Thank you. God has given you quite a voice and you do so much by sharing the gift with tremendous generosity.

Fran, I'm happy it could be a comfort to you. Too many of us have a tendency to wallow in the River Shame at one time or another. What's sad is we probably wallow in it with our eyes closed and if we only opened them, we'd see a lot of our friends there...and we miss the opportunity to transform it into a more joyful "swimming party!"

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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