Repenting and Laughing

When I visit the Morgan Library & Museum* I always buy this postcard because I like to give it away. Queen Anne de Bretagne at Confession by Jean Poyet from the Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne.  Anne makes her confession dutifully and maybe a bit too thoroughly. The priest slumps against his stall – bored, sound asleep. Maybe the picture says that Anne really has no sins of note.

‘Tis the season for Repentance, fa la la la lah, lala la la. When I talk with groups about the mysticism of the church year, people often say Lent is their favorite season. Why? Maybe because the practice of spiritual disciplines make a difference. After forty days of fasting from things that aren’t good for you anyway you feel better. When you’re out of your self centeredness in doing good works you feel better. Reflection, conscience cleansing, prayer, simplicity makes you feel better.  You feel better at the time.  You feel better right away.

My favorite book on Repentance is Irma Zaleski’s The Way of Repentance. It’s only 68 pages divided into short chapters. Spare, wise, readable, the book has nourished me for a decade. Repentance is a joyful way of life, she says – a continual process of noticing, healing, sanctification. Her approach takes away the overwhelming sense of burden and impossibility of facing self and sin. Here’s a quote that rose from the page for me this time.

Even when we love another human being and know we are loved, we so often feel “unworthy,” amazed at the gift which has been bestowed on us, and which, we realize, we can never “deserve.” How much more so in our relationship with God! The more we love him and long for him, the more we grieve over our “unworthiness” and our separation from him.  This is why it has always been true that it is the saints, the purest of heart, the ones least burdened with sin, who always repent the most.  It is not because they think or imagine that they have outdone us all in sinning, but because they have eyes to see what it is they long for and what they cannot, in this life, ever fully possess.

In my own soul searching, I’ve found the sin of self-loathing the skeleton key that opens all the doors to the imbalances of my nature.  What I haven’t done before is look at the ways I’ve improved my life by opening the doors and windows, letting in the fresh air and purifying these old hiding places with the purifying incense of repentance. What I’ve discovered is this: I’m loved by God.  I have known this love especially when my life has fallen apart, in distress, in desperation, in illness, in weakness. If I habitually hate myself I’m rejecting that grace lavished upon me. If God loves me at my worst, why should I reject myself even at my best?

By continually noticing the little signs of self-loathing, repenting, and then, especially laughing, I’m improving incrementally. I need not despair at the slow progress. Even tokens of progress make the lives of those I live with more tolerable.

*If you can, see the exhibit Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, through May 2, 2010. Go to to see more.

One Response to “Repenting and Laughing”

  1. Diane Says:

    Thank you for the links as well as your sharing your personal insights and revelations of your own journey; how similar we all are in our transformation process. Benedicti Domini, Diane

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