Yesterday I wrote that there are certain ways of talking about aspects of the Christian faith especially when it comes to love, repentance, and illness that we do not have a heart for today. The 1662 Prayer Book has in it a beautiful exhortation to the Sick (scroll down just a bit after the responses) and for centuries these were words of comfort, even up to 1962 here in Canada when it was dropped from our present BCP. Surely people in the 1950s wanted their loved ones to survive and see through their illness, to be happy and healthy, and found comfort in this exhortation–has the meaning of the exhortation changed since then, or have we?
Questions like these, talk about repentance, sin or love is all so straightforward in the desert. Repentance is not something we do occasionally, or do when we’ve trespassed against somebody but repentance is an unceasing way of living. It is like a line we must walk from our birth to our death, our way of being, knowing fully that we will at times step off the line. Abba Isaiah in today’s saying describes it simply as something that we step away from but always must return to.
We are all bearing the wounds of sin and those wounds bind and heal as we continue leading a life that is repentance, deviating causes those wounds to re-open and new ones to form. When Abba Isaiah says that we should keep the pain of our sins before us, I think he is saying that this is repentance and puts us into right relation with those others in surgery. Our asking why the other cries out can lead to pride, judgement, and thus reopen our wounds–it is enough that they are crying and we know that they bear the same wounds. Remembering our own sin helps us to remember theirs.
Abba Isaiah said: We are all as if in surgery. One has a pain in the eye, another in the hand, a third in the veins, and whatever other diseases exist. Among these, some wounds are already healed, but when you eat something harmful, they return once again. This is what occurs to a person who is in repentance and yet judges or shows contempt toward others, because he must again return to repentance. Since those in surgery have different illnesses, if someone cries in pain with regard to his own suffering, let no one else ask, ‘Why are you crying out?’ Is not each one concerned with his own pain? Therefore, if the pain of my own sin is before me, I would not look at the sin of another, for everyone who lies in surgery observes the precautions of his own doctor, taking care not to eat whatever harms his wounds.