Collective Contrition – Reaching Out Blog #14

“O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”

Psalm 130:2-8

“Shouldn’t that crush our hearts and make us bow our heads in an endless sorrow?  Shouldn’t that bring all human beings who believe that life is worth living together in a common contrition and a public penance?  Shouldn’t that bring us finally to a confession that we as a people have sinned and need forgiveness and healing?” (Henri Nouwen)

Henri Nouwen gives this quote in the context of having a contrite heart.  A contrite heart is a humble, confessing and repenting heart.  Contrition is good but what is not good is too much individual focus.  Nouwen writes, “But if the catastrophical events of our days, the wars, mass murders, unbridled violence, crowded prisons, torture chambers, the hunger and illness of millions of people and the unnamable misery of a major part of the human race is safely kept outside the solitude of our hearts, our contrition remains no more than a pious emotion.”

We have to let some of the pain in.  We have to allow the condition of the human race to penetrate our hardened hearts so that we re-discover the real value of this life God has blessed us with.  It is in the solitude of our hearts where we most need to re-connect with the human race and lift its fallen condition before a holy God.

I’m guilty, how about you?  How often do I come across the pain and suffering of my fellow human beings and choose to steel my heart so that it doesn’t penetrate to my core?  What am I afraid of?

I’ll tell you exactly what I’m afraid of.  I’m afraid I’ll be able to see nothing else.  I’m afraid I’ll have to walk away from my own life for one minute and help another.  I’m afraid I’ll be changed and that the change will be painful.  I’m afraid I’ll have to give up my own version of happiness.  I’m afraid I won’t know where to stop.  I’m afraid there won’t be enough of me to really help.  I’m afraid I’ll have to act like a Christian and live the life God has called me to.

I say I value life but do I?  I say sin is sin but am I really willing say I am sinful?


Here’s the truth in this matter:  we are members of the human race and, in some way, we are responsible for what does and does not happen.  We own the human condition together.  Do I think I’m better than those who are suffering on the other side of the world?  How about those people on the other side of the block?  I am not above the human condition.  I am a part of the human race and I have a part in confessing the sins of my race.  We all do.  It’s a collective contrition.  What would happen if Christians actually cared for the world they live in?  What would happen if we truly lifted one another up in prayer deep in the solitude of our hearts?   Could a world be changed for the better?  Could we find the faith with which to move a mountain of humanity?

Oh Lord, break through to the inner core of my heart and, there, allow enough of the pain and suffering of this world to flow in to move me towards understanding my role in the human race and towards the action I need to provide to the world around me.


2 thoughts on “Collective Contrition – Reaching Out Blog #14

  1. I was just thinking about some of this the past few days, about working to make sure negative emotion of others cannot impact me. After spending about 10 years battling emotional strife constantly, I decided a few years ago I didn’t want that in my life anymore.

    Some might say that’s a pipe dream, but what it’s done is drive me to make better, smarter decisions about my life, and when negativity comes (it’s inevitable, really) I find ways to manage the stress that comes with that.

    In our Sunday School class there is a woman who is built for taking on the heartbreak and pain of others. She is wired to be extremely emotional, and you can hear it in her voice, in the way she approaches so many things. She is not emotional to the point of being unable to focus. Quite the contrary, God created her this way so that she could be a help to others, would willingly take on their burdens and pray for them as though the burdens were her own.

    I will admit I want none of that, and that if you gave me a choice, I would choose to quietly pray for others as I hear needs as opposed to being actively involved. However, I believe most of us have been given the gift of listening. Sometimes, people are naturally drawn to someone who they just “know” they can talk to. Sometimes, God has given us that capacity for one person in particular, or like-minded people, or perhaps a few people along life’s path.

    I think that, since God made so many variations on the theme, if you will, our challenge becomes to be open enough to realize, then accept whatever it is He has chosen us to be for others. Being open to that, to giving that love in whichever way God decides is part of what makes our spiritual world tick.

  2. Very insightful. You’ve caught the jist of what Nouwen is trying to say. Some are built more to handle the pains around them then others. We are all constantly pushed to be someone we are not – as if you’re not human if you can’t fully understand and engage in the pain of others. Yet we are not cut from the same mold. While there are things we all aspire to we are not all made the same. I suspect we all have room for improvement but it is crazy to suggest there is a singular level we are all meant to reach. Our aspirations in areas like this should be to be all that God wants us to be – nothing more or less. Don’t stop until God is satisfied.

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