Tag Archives: repentance

Of mortality and forgiveness

Death serves as a constant reminder that this life we have is just a passing breeze. It’s only a temporary stopover to the main place; eternity. Not many believe in that but the faith I profess teaches about life after death. What we believe however, doesn’t change the fact that death is real. Whether we believe there is eternal life or not doesn’t stop people from dying. And each time someone we know or love crosses over to the other side we are reminded that we’re here only for a while.

Last Friday but one my big sister left for school. Minutes later, the doorbell rang. I was about to start saying my morning prayers when my small sister opened the door. It was our big sister. I didn’t know why she had suddenly come back. Curious, I went to see what the matter was. She had a horrified look on her face. At first I’d thought she had forgotten something or couldn’t get a bus to school so wanted me to drive her, but the patent fear on her face told me it was something more serious.

“You’ll want to sit down for this one,” she said.

My curiosity graduated to dread in an instant. Taking her advice, I sat down. I didn’t want to freak out but her body language bespoke fear that was almost tangible. “D is dead!” She blurted out, a palm pressed against her chest.

My small sister and I gasped in horror. “What?” We asked simultaneously.

“Are you sure it’s him?” We asked.

“It’s written on the noticeboard at the gate,” she replied, grief stricken.

When the shock wore off, my small sister stated crying. “I don’t believe it,” she said.

“But I saw him in church on Sunday and he looked happy and healthy,” I added. My sisters both agreed they saw him too and he didn’t appear ill. Minutes later, my big sister left for school. For close to an hour my small sister and I tried to guess what could have led to his sudden demise. He was a young man in his twenties, and though he and my small sister were once tight, they had long fallen out; at the time of his death we were not in good terms.

He and my sister started off as friends and after a while he told her he wanted her to be his girlfriend but my sister turned him down. She wasn’t ready to get in a relationship. The disappointment of my sister rejecting him sought of embittered him because anytime he saw any of my sisters, mom or me, he would start making snide comments about us with other guys, high-fiving and all. He was actually the one who inspired my post, ‘men in skirts’.

He ran a movie shop near the place we bought groceries. Everytime I went by to buy some vegetables, he would find something irritating to say about my hair extensions, or my weight; anything he knew would piss me. He always succeeded because I would always leave feeling so offended, breathing fast, fists clenched.

At one point I told my sisters I would give him a piece of my mind the next time he dared say anything about me. They warned me; that would be imprudent. Reluctantly, I gave heed to their words. I didn’t have the stomach for all the nastiness, so I chose to stop going there. Every one of my family stopped going there. The place we’d previously frequented became alien.

We were not sure avoiding him and his friends was the best choice but it felt better. We didn’t have much to complain about. Since we stopped going there, we didn’t know what he said about us, but everytime he saw us passing by, he would laugh so loud. I imagined he was doing that so we would think he was laughing at us. Maybe I was wrong. It was irritating, but we didn’t let it get to us.

Christianity teaches about forgiveness; but constantly, we wondered how we could forgive him given that he didn’t seem remorseful. Forgiveness and repentance go hand in hand. For one to be forgiven, they need to be ready to make amends for their shortcomings. He didn’t seem ready; we therefore opted to stay away from him.

Until the time of his death, we were not talking. I was never really friends with him, but my sister was. It tore me to bits to see her grieve over a man who spent his better days making her life and ours miserable.

“If we heard it was an April fool’s prank they forgot to take down and we found out he was alive, what would you do?” I asked her as she wept.

She took a while to reply, pondering over the question. “Nothing.”

“See. It wasn’t because we didn’t want to make peace with him. He just wasn’t ready for it.”

For forgiveness to work, the involved parties need to meet halfway. If one is forgiving someone that’s far, it is easier to forgive them in order to get some closure to some painful experience. But if the person one needs to make peace with is present, it’s difficult to mend fences if they are unwilling.

When we learned of his death, we wished everything had been okay between us; nonetheless, it’s easier said than done. Truth is even he were alive, there wasn’t much we could do, unless he also realized the need for us to reconcile.

Even so, I realized it’s good to be at peace with everyone. There’s no telling what tomorrow brings.

Beginning of Lent

Yesterday, 5th March was Ash Wednesday. It was the first day of the forty days’ Lenten fast preceding Easter. The ash used is made from burning Palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. It’s then blessed by the priest, who then puts it on people’s foreheads in the form of a sign of the cross. The ash serves as a reminder that human beings came from dust and to dust we shall return.

ash wednesday

Additionally, in the early days before soap was discovered, ash was used for cleaning. In this case therefore, the ash also symbolizes cleansing. In ancient times, the use of ash was an outer manifestation of mourning and repentance. In Job 42:6, after realizing his mistakes about questioning the will of God Job said, “So I am ashamed of all I have said and repent in dust and ashes.” Ash therefore shows that a sombre mood characterises the Lenten season; purple vestments are used by priests.

The three pillars of lent are fasting, reflection/penance and alms giving. It’s a period where people are called to reflect on their relationship with God. Sin separates us from God; it’s precisely for this reason that the need for repentance is greatly emphasized. It’s also a season of self-denial. People are encouraged to give up the things that pull them away from the grace of God; things they feel weaken their faith as Christians. If, for instance, anger makes you do things you regret later, give up on the anger.

The faithful are also encouraged to sacrifice the things they love. Basically this is a time of repentance; therefore we should deny ourselves those things that afford us pleasure in life. Whatever one chooses to sacrifice, they are asked to give it to the needy.

The forty days’ fast is an imitation of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, where He was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4: 1-11), immediately after His baptism. He went there to prepare Himself for the great mission He was about to embark on. During this Lenten season, we are reminded of our mortality, so we can realize the need to reflect on the relationship we have with God and repent our sins before it’s too late.

We are reminded not to put too much attention on bodily things; on material things, because they all shall pass. We’re reminded not to attach so much importance to physical things, because it’s the soul that matters. It’s the soul that carries on with the eternal journey when this life is no more.

Even though I write so much on Christianity and spirituality, I am not oblivious to the fact that not all my readers are Christians. But I hope this post inspires everyone who reads it somehow. I don’t ask that everyone converts to Christianity, but I hope that each one reflects on the lives they lead; one doesn’t need to be a Christian to help the needy, and neither does one need to be a Christian to aspire to be a better person.

Humans are synonymous with sin; our nature predisposes us to imperfections. This period is simply a time to reflect, atone for our wrongs and help those in need. One doesn’t necessarily have to be a Christian to do that.

Vengeance vs. Humanity

Last Saturday I watched something on the news that really stirred my thoughts. I don’t know what to make of the whole scenario until now but one thing’s a surety; it left me deeply tormented.  See there was this guy who had allegedly confessed to murder. He was also said to have been involved in some rape cases. After reporting the matter to the authorities and being subsequently ignored, the residents got tired and decided to take matters into their own hands. They cornered the suspect and decided to lynch him in broad daylight.

In anger, the residents doused him in gas and set him ablaze. I don’t know how on earth he managed, but the lucky guy escaped the angry mob. By then he had already been severely burnt. He had huge pink patches, where the skin had peeled off. I had trouble looking at the images and what made it even worse was seeing him begging people to take him to hospital as he was in so much pain. There wasn’t a tear drop on his face, but I could feel his pain.

Passers-by watched him walk under the blistering sun and no one offered to help. Bravely, he walked three kilometers, shoulders slouched, I imagine from all the pain, clothed only in a pair of black slacks. I watched as cars passed by and not even a single driver offered to rush him to hospital. Finally, I would say by God’s grace, he made it to hospital. On arrival the first thing he asked for was water and everyone around him just watched. Not even the nurses at the main desk felt moved by his agonizing state. I don’t know if anyone brought him water, but they said he was admitted there.

That clip gave me so much to think about: Firstly, I wondered where the police were by the time the residents decided to punish the guy for his sins. I imagined, if they had nabbed him they would have prevented the man from suffering, what I term a living hell; he tasted the fierce fires before dying.  Secondly, wasn’t there a Good Samaritan who could have offered to take him to hospital? I can vividly see the long strings of flesh dangling from his body as he walked to hospital. There’s just nothing fun about it; it made all the horror movies I’ve watched feel like heaven. I guess it’s because at the back of my head I knew there weren’t any scripts, cameras and lights; it was all real.

However, in my own head I still figured, people were still furious at him for all the atrocities he had committed. I could only imagine what the families of his rape and murder victims felt. Looking at it from that perspective I feel he was even lucky to have made it out alive because it’s clear the mob was bent on killing him. The reporters described it as ‘nine lives’; couldn’t agree more. So as much as I want to fault the residents for not rushing him to hospital, a part of me understands why no one felt kind enough to save the life of a man who had hurt/taken their own.

On the same point I also figured, someone might have offered to help him out, but if indeed the suspect’s a true leopard, never changing its spots and all, I imagined once he was better he would go back to avenge himself. So again, the residents would be in trouble. Up until now I haven’t been able to push the images out of my head; it was just horrifying. As the clip was being played some parts of his back were blurred and I would presume it was to protect viewers from the gory images.

I understood the residents felt let down by the authorities for not dealing with the suspect and that had obviously pushed them into attempting to lynch the man. That however, didn’t stop me from wondering what God thought of the whole scenario. He says, “Vengeance is mine.” So does He understand why the residents attacked the man? Will He pardon them for trying to take a man’s life, as guilty as he was? Will He understand all the passers-by who saw the man walking in the sun with serious burns and failed to help him?

What would Jesus have done?

Based on all the teachings from the bible, I imagine He would have suggested the man be taken to hospital and when he was much better he would have been handed over to the police. But that still makes me wonder, would there have been a person brave and kind enough to help the same man who had subjected them to so much misery? Killing and raping their loved ones?

After trying to make sense of the whole scenario, I finally came to the million dollar question: When all that was happening, where was God? He was watching, that entire time. I’ve learnt that He doesn’t interfere with people’s choices; He’ll guide, through the conscience-that small voice in our heads-but he doesn’t force His will on us. So chances are, the residents will have their own cases to answer; and about the guy, I just figured, God let him get set on fire and He still didn’t let him die.

If the guy had died, he wouldn’t have suffered as much as he did; but then, he wouldn’t have had the chance to repent. God gave him a second chance; if he survives, he will have the scars to remind him of his past iniquities. He can choose to be changed by his painful experience, or become a worse villain, seeking only vengeance.

That story made me think a lot; about humanity being challenged by the need for vengeance. It appears the lines become blurry, where one has to be compassionate towards those who cause them harm.

The truth will set you free

the truth will set you free

‘The truth will set you free.’ How many times have I heard this statement? Too many times I lost count. This statement could be viewed from many perspectives, but I want to look at it from the blackmail point of view. When someone is being blackmailed, I feel like they’re in a prison with invisible bars. You see one walking on the streets, but deep inside they know they’re caged.

People err, that’s human nature; but sometimes one feels they’ve done something that’s so wrong so they choose to keep it to themselves. Unfortunately someone else finds out accidentally. They hold it over their head, using it to hold them prisoners. One ends up becoming a prisoner of their own sins.

A priest in my church told a story about a young boy; he lived with his grandmother and sister. His grandmother had a cat she loved so much, but one day while playing with it, he accidentally killed it. He freaked out, so he told his sister about it, asking her to keep it a secret. His sister was reluctant; she wanted to tell on him, but after he pleaded with her not to tell their grandmother, she agreed, but on one condition: he would have to do all her house chores.

The boy agreed gladly. If the sister had some chore to do, she would ask him to do it. The boy did it all stoically; it was better than their grandmother finding out what he had done; he was afraid she would be so furious with him; that she would punish him. If their grandmother asked his sister to do anything, she would call him and ask him to do it. He’d become his sister’s prisoner. After a while the young boy realized he couldn’t put up with his sister’s blackmail, so he decided to come clean.

Meekly, he walked to his grandmother and told him what he had done. The grandmother just smiled and told him, “I already knew my cat died. I was watching you play with it when it did, but I already forgave you. I was only waiting for you to find the courage to come to me.”

“So you’re not mad at me grandma?” The boy asked, surprised and excited at the same time.

“No, I’m not,” his grandmother smiled.

The next time his sister asked him to do her laundry, he refused. “I’ll tell on you,” she threatened.

Courageously, he just told her, “Go ahead.” His sister was shocked; she hadn’t seen that coming. In life we find ourselves in such situations. One does something, but because they are afraid of the consequences they let people blackmail them; and the thing with blackmail is that once a person falls into that hole, it starts to feel like an abyss; falling deeper and deeper into it, without feeling like there could be a possible way out.

Depending on the magnitude of what they did, some people feel like sinners; slowly they pull away from God, because they feel they are unworthy. They become prisoners of their sins. Like the boy’s grandmother, God sees the things we do, and forgives us long before we go to Him. So while one is slowly drifting away from God, afraid of His retribution, He already forgave them.

In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), when the son who had strayed found his way back to his father, his father had a banquet set for him. He didn’t reprimand him; the thought that his son had repented was enough for him.

God is so willing to take us back even when we feel we’ve committed the worst of crimes; He doesn’t hold grudges. He only wants us to realize our mistakes and repent, because it’s only by being penitent that we can rid our conscience off the heavy load. Once we confess we cease to be prisoners. If one was being blackmailed they find the courage to face their blackmailers.

Freedom is an integral thing in life; without it life feels miserable. When one tries to conceal something they did, even if no one blackmails them, they become tormented by their own conscience; that is bondage, and penance is the way out; it liberates us.

Personally I believe in Heaven, purgatory, even hell; all these are the afterlife destinations, which I know not many people like discussing because firstly it’s scary and two, not everyone is a Christian. From what I’ve gathered though, one doesn’t automatically go to hell because they did something everyone considers wrong. One could spend they’re whole life killing, and still end up in heaven; because it’s not the nature or the magnitude of the sin that matters, but if one repented it.

Take Paul for instance, formally known as Saul (Acts 9:1-19); he was a persecutor of Christians, but that didn’t stop God from forgiving him. What does that say about God? His love and mercy knows no bounds.