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What Does It Mean to Repent?




I’ve been known to equate this spiritual practice of affirmations and denials with truth and lies (admittedly simplistic); to equate this spiritual practice of affirmations and denials with the truths of the absolute of you and the lies of the absolute of you, presuming that somehow, living from the highest possible perspective is a good thing.


And I say “the absolute of you” to acknowledge that while you have a body which will know both a birth certificate and a death certificate (both a beginning and an ending), the absolute of you is neither defined by, nor limited to, such experiences.


The absolute truth of you is life, even in death.


While you have a checking account which may fluctuate with the latest trends in thought, whether those thoughts be bearishly wary or bullishly aggressive, the absolute of you is neither defined by, nor limited to, such experiences.


The absolute truth of you is sufficiency, even in want.


While you have decisions to make and complexities to navigate and uncertainties to manage, the absolute of you is neither defined by, nor limited to, such experiences.


The absolute of you is wisdom, even in confusion.


So, for me, affirmations aren’t so much statements of relative desire, even though I think there can be value in that work (you recognize affirmations used at this level in visualization work and attraction work and intention work and so forth). Affirmations are statements of absolute truth.


And denials – while I suggest them to counter lies of the absolute of you (“I am worthless,” comes to mind. “I am incapable, I am limited, I am stupid”), I do not suggest them to counter the experiences of our relative selves. If you are experiencing a body issue, a financial situation or a faith crisis, there’s nothing wrong with facing those situations honestly.


The old joke applies and while I don’t remember it precisely, the punch line finds a Unity minister standing in the very depths of literal hell - the fire reaching out, the smoke circling about, the laughter of some horned creature ringing through the cavernous expanse, the punch line find’s the subject sweaty browed and shouting, “It’s not hot and I’m not here.”


So no, I do not suggest denials to counter the experiences of our relative selves. If you are experiencing a body issue, a financial situation or a faith crisis, there’s nothing wrong with facing those situations honestly.


You’re far too smart to lie to yourself. You will catch yourself every time.

While I might be having a body issue, I start by remembering that I am neither defined by, nor limited to, such experiences.


While I might be having a financial situation, I start by remembering that I am neither defined by, nor limited to, such experiences.


While I might be having a faith crisis, I start by remembering that I am neither defined by, nor limited to, such experiences.


In a previous writing, I offered something of a teaser into eastern thought and practice -

mudras, three of hundreds – many of which are demonstrated in depictions of the historic Buddha. I offered a mudra thought to enhance wisdom or understanding (one of Unity’s Twelve Powers, by the way). I offered another thought to enhance release or renunciation (yes, another of Unity’s Twelve Powers). And I offered a third thought to remind us that in the end, the absolute always rules supreme over the relative.


I hope you will practice some, if not all, of these. For perhaps more than ever before, I suggest that the world needs those willing to go into their proverbial closets and to do their spiritual work. I might say that a better world requires a better people. A world of unity and possibility requires a people of unity and possibility. A world of compassion and love requires a people of compassion and love. A world of decency requires a people of decency.


And so it is that we arrive at yet another opportunity to practice. Themed Fasting, Repenting and other Pastimes, today speak to universal themes of attachment and emancipation.


Now, if you’re like me, fasting and repenting join with other terms such as sin and atonement and salvation and hell to form a broad category of terms that ultimately represent something of a human frailty, fault and futility. The battle cry of these terms goes something like this, “I’m weak, I’m bad, so I’m doomed.”


But I suggest that this isn’t so much a product of what the writers intended as it is a product of what the readers projected. Generations of readers have looked through lenses colored by frailty, fault and futility, and so frailty, fault and futility is what they saw.

And as must be obvious by this point, I suggest that we look to the wisdom writings of our traditions through the lenses for more affirming than those of our forebearers.


To be clear, today’s sin isn’t what yesterday’s writers meant. Today’s atonements and salvation aren’t what yesterday’s writers meant. Even hell is a single word used to represent several ideas appearing in your Judeo-Christian Bible, perhaps the most graphic being something of a city dump outside Jerusalem’s walls, whose fires burned pretty much all the time.


What if the fears of hellfire and damnation which have filled human psyches and colored human lives for generations (seldom for the better, by the way) are nothing more than the gross distortions and exaggerations of an ancient peoples’ city dump? It’s a great image, yes, but what if it was never intended to represent a geographic location specific to life after death in some dualistic system of reward or punishment?


And so it is with fasting and repentance.


Now, Jesus started his public ministry following a period of fasting. And while he didn’t emphasize fasting as a practice, he did say that if you choose to do so, don’t do it for public applause. Do it for, and I quote, “Your Father who sees in secret.”


And haven’t we all known some of these people. Generous, generous, generous

– as long as someone is watching. Caring, caring, caring – as long as someone is watching. Noble, noble, noble – as long as someone is watching.


Why, I happen to know one of these people right now. This individual is so determined to be seen as the generous one that they don’t care how selfish they have to be to get there. This individual is so determined to be seen as the caring one that they don’t care how cruel they have to be to get there. This individual is so determined to be seen as the noble one that they don’t care how petty they have to be to get there. This individual is so determined to be seen as the one who helps everyone that they will hurt anyone to get there.


And yet, doesn’t Jesus seem to imply that the character of a person isn’t so much determined by one’s public choices as it is by one’s private choices? Who are you (he might ask), not in your celebrity, but in your anonymity? Who are you, not in the presence of your audience, but in the solitude of your conscience?


He emphasized the same idea (he offered the same chastisement) when he referenced the rabbis who would pray flamboyantly among the crowds on the corners, simply that they might be seen by other people.


If you would be an example of the Christian idea, one way to do so is to spend less time challenging the faith of others and to spend more time challenging the hypocrisy of self. That’s a Christian idea.


Now, I have to say, I love it that Jesus launched his public ministry by fasting. For can’t we consider that to fast, at its center, is to challenge our worldly attachments? It’s to challenge the people and the things and the situations and the so-called normalcies that we have allowed ourselves to think we simply can’t live without?


So yes, I love it that Jesus launched his public ministry by fasting because as you step into greater authenticity, you will be called to reconsider that which you have allowed yourself to think you simply can’t live without.


So, in a sense, fasting isn’t about losing anything. Fasting is about coming into right relationship with everything.


Several years past, I wrote that: you arrived without stuff. You will leave without stuff. So any belief in ownership is really just an illusion. We are all renters here.


So, if we spiritually relinquish this belief in ownership, the question becomes, what is our right relationship with the stuff of this world? Are we designed to live in a remote mountain village with only a dented drinking cup and a loincloth? Of course not.


There is nothing wrong with the stuff of this world. For it’s here to be enjoyed. There is something wrong with attachment to the stuff of this world, however. For it can't be enjoyed anywhere else.


So our right relationship with the stuff of this world is one of detachment. And paradoxically (and spiritual principles are often paradoxical), as we detach, we become free to experience more.


So our new view of life becomes one of an ongoing process of circulation – entering and exiting, giving and receiving, beginning and ending, expending and renewing. Spring follows winter, your blood flows through your veins, the earth revolves around the sun and Cher goes on tour.


And we come to see our role as simply positioning ourselves correctly in this process of circulation – receiving freely and without attachment; giving freely and without attachment, both necessary to experience the full potential of this life experience.


That’s fasting.


And in the Jewish Bible, neither is the idea of repentance laden with the dark stuff we’ve assigned. Rather, it’s more in keeping with that core narrative (you remember Moses and his jaunt to Egypt to free the slaves) it’s more in keeping with that core narrative of the return from exile to a life in alignment with that which we call God.


In Jewish scripture, to repent is to return to a life in God. And, in Christian scripture, one might add a layer that goes something like this: to repent is to go beyond the mind you currently have. So in other words, whether we reframe this concept of repentance as inspired from Jewish scripture or Christian scripture, to repent is to change your mind. There, now isn’t that more palatable? We don’t repent so God becomes available to us.


We repent so we become available to God.


To repent is to change your mind. Finally, a Unity teacher can look to his Unity students and say, “Repent!”


  • Are you living in a pattern of mediocre relationships? “Repent!”

  • Are you living in a pattern of dissatisfying work? “Repent!”

  • Are you living in a pattern of tenuous scarcity? “Repent!”

  • Are you living in a pattern of underlying fear? “Repent!”

Mediocre relationships? Maybe you need to cultivate a higher standard.


Dissatisfying work? Maybe you need to cultivate a richer faith.


Tenuous scarcity? Maybe you need to cultivate a greater worth.


Underlying fear? Maybe you need to accept that overdue detachment.


To repent is to change your mind.


To repent is to return to God – to consciousness – acknowledging consciousness as the fountainhead from which all new beginnings arise.


How important is this? Well, on the one hand, repentance might be thought to affirm your lowliness. On the other hand, repentance might be thought to affirm your grandness. For repentance suggests that no matter how many times you’ve failed, you can get up.


Repentance suggests that no matter how much you’ve become, you haven’t yet begun to press the limits of your becoming. Repentance suggests that no matter what your eyes might tell you, your heart can hint at even sweeter destinations. Repentance suggests that no matter your statistics, no matter your genetics, no matter your probabilities, no matter your circumstances, you are wildly free.


Because you can choose to change your mind.

Because you can return to that fountainhead from which all new beginnings arise.

Because you can return to God.


And there’s an affirmation for you :

Today, I emancipate myself from the habit mind of a status quo to the God mind of a new possibility. Today, I return. Today, I repent.

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