Leaving our sins behind

POST BY JCrampsey

Easter Island heads  Credit: Arian Zwegers

A friend of mine rescued a dog that he felt sorry for. The dog was called Elvis.  After a week he gave the dog a new name. He called it Pavarotti.  It wasn’t Italian, it couldn’t sing tenor, but as it Howled all through the night, it reminded him of Pavarotti’s great song None shall sleep. Nessun Dorma.  The top note in Nessun Dorma comes on the great cry ‘I shall conquer, Vincero.’  I have often tried to hit this note, but have got it once or twice only.  There is an equally challenging song in the rock world again for the male voice.  For old hippies among you, remember Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the suite Judy Blue Eyes. It is a song which is made great by Stephen Stills guitar playing, and it invites you to sing along and then you strangle on the high notes.  I’ve been thinking a lot about music in the last couple of days, because I have to do a Desert Island Discs event at St Columba’s during the week.

You realise that eight songs is not very many, and then what are they for? Do you construct an autobiography with your choice, or do they map your emotions?  After my first attempt, all the music seemed incredibly sad, so I had to change things a bit. In case you are wondering neither Pavarotti or CSNY made it. Nor did the Beatles, even though I grew up with them, and we had all sorts of memories because of the death of George Martin last week.

But there is a particular line in Judy Blue Eyes that seems to me to connect with today’s readings. Stills is trying to patch up his real-life relationship with Judy Collins, and he sings
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.

It isn’t easy to take in its meaning, but I think that is an acknowledgment that the past has a power over us, and that that power can be destructive, and does not allow the present to be celebrated and the future to happen.  It doesn’t matter who you are now, remember what you were back then, you can’t get away from it, it will always drag you back, even as you try to get free.

God says in the prophecy of Isaiah:
No need to recall the past,
no need to think about what was done before.
See, I am doing a new deed,
even now it comes to light; can you not see it?
Yes, I am making a road in the wilderness,
paths in the wilds.

I think we can hear the same echo in the words of Jesus to the woman, ‘Go and sin no more’.  If the stoning went ahead this person would be frozen in her identity as a sinner.  Jesus allows her to walk away from that past. Freedom opens up for her to embrace. Don’t look back. In many ways, this is the central story which illustrates Jesus and mercy in the Gospels.

There is no argument that the woman has done something wrong. How do we deal with it?

Jesus and the woman taken in adulteryThere is a modern painting of this story (left) where Jesus is standing by a wall with his hand on the head of a woman who is kneeling on the ground terrified.  You don’t see the men who are preparing to stone her, but the sun casts a shadow with their headdresses. The shadows of the headdresses come to a point which are all aiming at the woman.  The stones are on the ground and they have  smaller shadows which are also pointing towards the woman.          

 Are there two questions that we can ask ourselves from this story?  If I put myself into the centre of this story: what is written on the stones that are meant for me?

 Are these stones like the desert island discs, they encapsulate your life and play in your consciousness in an unhealthy way? 

Another image I think of are those stones on Easter Island. You can’t get away from them.  People leave their stones behind as they go away, but the stones are still there.
What is Jesus writing about me in the dust?  This is the only instance of Jesus writing anything.  Is it something like in the unjust steward Luke 16.1-8.  Take your bill and write sixty. Or is it an invitation to step out of the stone circle into freedom.

Don’t’ let the past remind us of what we are not now………

Jim Crampsey SJ