The “First Week”: Week Eight/Session One.
Theme: My Own History of Sin and Grace.
Our reading for today: Romans 3:9-20.
So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners.
And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin. (Romans 3: 9, 19-20 MsgB)
In week eight of our Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius states this truth;
He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor.
Ignatius goes on to suggest that those who desire to live a life that fully glorifies God, must take the necessary time to use our memories, reflecting long and hard on our particular history of sin. In other words, it’s time to write out my personalized Book of Sin.
Yikes. At age 63, it’s gonna take more than just a few days to recall and categorize all the sinful nonsense that’s gone on in and through my life! How about you?
But, praise God, Father Kevin O’Brien, author of The Ignatian Adventure, comes to our rescue by reminding us: “The point here is not to rehearse every sinful moment of your life, which is impossible anyway. Instead, invite God to lead you through your life history and reveal those moments in which you failed to love God, others, or yourself.”
So today, I begin this trek by reflecting on the one truth Paul stated to his good friends in Rome…When it comes to being a sinner, we are all in the same sinking boat together. And man, the water does seem to be rushing into our boat at times, doesn’t it?
If you’ve taken the opportunity, as I have, to study your unique personality type, using the tool of the Enneagram, you probably won’t be surprised by the fact that our sin patterns are pretty consistent over the years of our lives. For me, a Number 2 on the Enneagram, the Helper is hopelessly caught up in the sins of self-centeredness, pride and self-consumption. A quick review of my 63 years offers a true adherence to the sin patterns consistent with those individuals who are driven by the need to be loved.
I won’t take the time, nor do I sense the need to share my personalized Book of Sin with you here, but I will say this…those who study the Enneagram and publish material* to help us in the fine art of self-discovery, have pegged me well at levels 4 and 5 of the #2 Helper:
Level 5: Become overly intimate and intrusive: they need to be needed, so they hover, meddle, and control in the name of love. Want others to depend on them: give, but expect a return: send double messages. Enveloping and possessive: the codependent, self-sacrificial person who cannot do enough for others—wearing themselves out for everyone, creating needs for themselves to fulfill.
Level 4: Want to be closer to others, so start “people pleasing,” becoming overly friendly, emotionally demonstrative, and full of “good intentions” about everything. Give seductive attention: approval, “strokes,” flattery. Love is their supreme value, and they talk about it constantly.
And while Ignatius is correct in asking followers of Christ to contemplate their personal life of sin, he is also correct in stating that this search into this arena can only be redeemed when we also realize that our God of merciful redemption is standing at the ready to take the results we find and redeem us so that our sinful behavior might be transformed by His amazing grace.
Take for example, an Enneagram #2 like myself. Under the fine direction of the Holy Spirit and the pastoral care of Jesus of Nazareth, a Helper like me, who can so easily be shamed by his or her fleshly self-consumption and pride, can move to these redeeming qualities (as described by those who know the Enneagram well):
Level 3: Encouraging and appreciative, able to see the good in others. Service is important, but takes care of self too: they are nurturing, generous, and giving—a truly loving person.
Level 2: Empathetic, compassionate, feeling for others. Caring and concerned about their needs. Thoughtful, warm-hearted, forgiving and sincere.
Level 1 (At Their Best): Become deeply unselfish, humble, and altruistic: giving unconditional love to self and others. Feel it is a privilege to be in the lives of others.
*See www.enneagraminstitute.com for more on the helpful self-discovery tool: the Enneagram.
Wow! I like that!
So as we find ourselves together in this sinking boat of our sinfulness, take heart, my dear friends, that our Rescuing King is on His way with his emergency equipment, saving us from ourselves and redeeming us for the greater glory of God!
My prayer: Father God, I quickly confess that 63 years of self-centeredness, pride, and self-consumption don’t make for an easy read. But I do choose this day to accept this large volume called my Book of Sin and hand it over to You for redemption and grace. I’m thankful that the sinking boat of sinfulness is not my final destination. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So how might I break the patterns found in my many years of sin? What prayers might assist me? What actions might empower me? What positive steps might I take today to move toward the redeemed characteristics of my Enneagram type?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.