“Are they ashamed? No, they have no shame at all, they do not even know how to blush.” – Jeremiah 6:15
We have a shame problem in America.
Some of us feel too much shame for things we didn’t choose: our bodies and their quirks, our minds and their failings, the abuse done to us by parents, partners, strangers.
And many of us feel too little shame for deeds that ought to make us blush: the taking of things that don’t belong to us; the easy lie; the harsh word to child, spouse, or the customer service rep.
Still others seem not to feel any shame at all: those who profit from industries that enslave or poison, those who would take health care away from millions, those who enable treason, corruption and greed for the sake of political expediency. The slow, inexorable work of self-justification has disappeared shame from the consciences of some of the most powerful people in our country.
We have become allergic to feeling shame, and have made it a bad word. But shame, in proper proportion and on the right occasion, is a gift from God. Like the nerve endings of a sensitive hand that alert us when the stove is hot, shame is an early warning system that helps us avoid further disastrous behavior.
A carefully cultivated and proportional sense of shame is a healthy part of the mature spiritual life. It’s a strong person who can admit wrong. But when we grow numb to our own transgressions, when we rationalize our behaviors, and locate all evil and responsibility outside ourselves, we can no longer feel the pain that is natural consequence of our actions and decisions.
Neuropathy, the failure of nerve endings to feel, puts us at risk of getting burned. Shameopathy also burns us–and many others–as the whole house goes up in flames.
God, help me to examine my conscience each night before bedtime, and to bear shame for the gift that it is: the price for my wrongdoing, and the gateway to redemption, resurrection and strength. Amen.
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