Today I return again to Angeles Arrien’s book Living in Gratitude
(if you recall, I’m reading a chapter a month throughout this year). In April, Arrien recommends focusing on mercy and atonement.
The latter is one of those loaded theological words that tend to make people break out in hives. But just because atonement makes us uncomfortable doesn’t mean there isn’t a truth lodged within it. Atonement and its twin of repentence are part of the yin-yang of existence, a way of coming back into harmony with oneself and with the world.
In Arrien’s usage, atonement refers to the desire to make amends. That may mean a reparation of some sort or an act of mercy that enables us to forgive someone else (or ourselves). Atonement begins in a recognition of wrong-doing and leads to genuine apology and repentence.
In the chapter for April, I resonated most with what Arrien has to say about ingratitude. The moral code of reciprocity is violated if we aren’t grateful for what we’ve received, she writes, particularly if our ingratitude becomes habitual. It’s one thing to grouse on an occasional basis, it’s another to view our lives through a perpetual prism of indifference, jealousy, pride or resentment. As an exercise for the coming month, she asks us to be conscious of when and how a sense of ingratitude is triggered for us, for this state is profoundly toxic to our souls.
For Christians, Lent is an especially appropriate time to contemplate these matters. But it’s not only Christians who recognize the temptations of lapsing into ingratitude, as this beautiful passage Arrien quotes from the Buddhist Avatamsaka Sutra indicates:
For all the harmful things I’ve done, with my body, speech and mind, from beginningless greed, anger and stupidity, through lifetimes without number, to this very day; I now repent and I vow to change entirely.
Beginningless greed, anger and stupidity….”beginningless” is the right adjective, is it not? For these emotions tiptoe so quietly into our lives that we often don’t realize how much psychic space they have claimed. April, this season of rebirth and new life, is a good time to try to banish them.