I’ve Been a BAAD Girl!

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
It has been 48 years since my last confession.

Apparently something happened between translations of the New Testament. I grew up with a Baltimore Catechism definition of sin. It was very complicated for an eight year old, and I actually didn’t worry about the meanings, I just had to be able to recite for Sister Giovanni (who currently doubles as “your least favorite teacher” when I’m prompted to create secret questions by my so-called secure online accounts) all the definitions of Original Sin, Actual Sin, Mortal and Venial Sin. I look back on all this now and am amazed to think about the word: Actual sin.

“Excuse me, Father, but I don’t understand. I’ve heard of venereal disease but what is venereal pleasure?”

For those of you not raised Catholic – you should know you were born with Original Sin through no fault of your own. This blemish on your soul is Adam and Eve’s fault. The only way to wipe it clean is Baptism. The rest of the world must bear the burden of a soiled soul. Actual sin was (and still is) defined as “any willful thought, word, deed or omission contrary to the law of God.”

Fortunately for all of us, the Church is here to let us know not only what these thoughts, words, deeds and omissions are, but even how big a sin – mortal or venial it is. It even can decide that God changed his mind. For example, it used to be a mortal sin (straight to hell!) if you ate fish on Friday. But then God must have changed His mind.  And let’s not get into the Inquisition, shall we?

I can still remember feeling fraught during my Sophomore religion class with Father Cassidy. It was after a most delightful afternoon in the woods learning how to French kiss Joey Falcone.  Father Cassidy began to elucidate the finer points of the sin of Lust. “Indirect venereal pleasure would be a venial sin,” he expounded. “Direct venereal pleasure is of course a mortal sin unless you are married.” Now until then, the only time I had heard the word “venereal” was in relation to “venereal disease.” So I wasn’t worried, since I was pretty sure I didn’t have one, but….

“Excuse me, Father, but I don’t understand. I’ve heard of venereal disease but what is venereal pleasure?”

He smiled at this obviously chaste, naïve girl. “Well, Child, venereal pleasure is when two people engage in any, ahem, contact.”

I blanched, thinking of Joey.  “Um, so what is ‘indirect venereal pleasure?”

Father Cassidy shrugged. “Dancing close together would be an example. Your bodies are touching but you are clothed. That would be a venial sin.”

I could feel the entire class suddenly busy with their notebooks.

“And direct venereal pleasure? Is kissing indirect or direct? ” I pressed on, steeling myself for the hounds of hell.

Father Cassidy looked at me. “It depends on the kiss.” And then he changed the subject. But I knew I was damned. Unless of course,  I subjected myself to confession….

Thing is, the word we call SIN is a mistranslation from the Greek. The Greek word actually means “to miss the mark, “ in other words, to fall short. Sort of like letting your Father down, or letting yourself down. But it’s not about eating meat or kissing Joey. (In fact, in retrospect, I felt at that moment I was right on target.)

There’s a practice I’ve encountered in various wisdom traditions. Some call it “recapitulation” or “reversing.”  In Taisha Abelar’s book The Sorcerer’s Crossing, she is asked to “recapitulate” her entire life and come to terms with every stupid mistake she’s ever made in order to become a “warrior.” However, it’s difficult enough for someone to recapitulate one day. Working backwards from the moment I get into bed, as I play back my day, I find myself flinching at missed opportunities (I could have had a V8!), careless words (You ALWAYS leave your socks on the floor!), rationalizations (It’s just one piece of chocolate), white lies (I swear I emailed you back last week!), and triggered reactions (Damn you! Don’t you know how to signal?) I rarely make it back to breakfast before falling asleep. Maybe it’s just too painful to acknowledge my humanity in this way.

But what’s all this about God’s law? Does that only cover the ten commandments? Clergy have been re-inventing “God’s laws” for centuries. After all, it used to be considered a holy thing to burn a woman at the stake. And the woman was considered to be in violation of “God’s law”. To this day, people are being murdered according to someone’s definition of God’s law.

Meanwhile, God, or Goddess, All That Is, the Great Universal Mind, and even Zeus, are all sitting wherever it is that gods sit, shaking their heads. “Was that your law?” Zeus asks Jehovah. The Great Spirit shrugs and says “I don’t remember saying anything like that.” And Isis sighs and says, “All I wanted them to do was be happy. And now, they’ve even connected my name with some crazy people who chop heads off in some other guy’s name.” The Gods collectively sigh.  “I think they missed the mark,” shrugs Krishna.

Missing the mark is not just criminal behavior and life’s peccadillos. When I think of things that require forgiveness, I consider the road not taken. How many times I’ve heard someone say, “You know, I’ll never forgive myself for not taking that trip to Paris ten years ago.” Or “If only I had quit school and pursued that acting career…..” A life of regret is also perhaps a life of “missing the mark.”

Can recapitulation actually lead to something like self-forgiveness? The Old English word is forgiefen: for- completely, giefen – given. Can I completely give up regret, guilt, shame and fear? Not rationalize it, not re-hash it over and over, not beat myself up for it, but really see the truth and then let go? The Old English definition of forgive is to give up the desire or power to punish. Each time I remember a hurt, or a mistake or a sin, there is a touch of punishment. Maybe when it comes to forgiving others, it literally does mean to forget.  But in order to forgive myself, I need to “re-member”. It’s not too late to pack your bags and book that flight to Paris. The Gods will smile upon you.

When not facing her foibles, Lavinia helps others live the life they want teaching the Feldenkrais Method and much more.

Lavinia Plonka
Written by Lavinia Plonka