Years ago, when flakes of old paint began falling on choir members’ heads, the trustees of my small United Methodist Church spearheaded a fund-raising campaign by parading around the pews carrying signs saying, “Repaint! The time is at hand!” I’m happy to say that moment was the closest to a call for repentance I’ve ever experienced in church.
The trustees’ joke returned to me recently because Emily and I took five days off of work to repaint our stairwell. The previous owner of our house was an antiques dealer who loved the “distressed” look. For thirteen years her paint job had successfully distressed us, and finally the time was at hand to do something about it. Days of effort and domestic chaos later, the walls are clean. A minor but ongoing irritation has been cleared from our home.
Turns out that the word “repent,” which we usually use to mean “turn away from sin toward the amendment of our lives,” can also mean, simply, “to change one’s mind.” We’d changed our minds about that awful paint job before we’d even bought the house, but now have actually changed the paint. Theologian James Hughes Reho’s definition of repent, “to undergo a deconstruction-reconstruction process,” makes the trustees’ playful application to building maintenance right on. You’ve got to deconstruct the old to make room for the new, whether it’s a hallway or a soul. Or, in the case of writers, a rough draft. Or, in the case of climate change, old energy dependencies. Or, in the case of a broken democracy, old complacencies.
Do you see where I’m going? We do have the capacity to change, but it takes some deconstruction first, which requires investment, some tolerance of chaos and not knowing, and a willingness to let go of what you’ve lived with. Including old notions of repentance. Repaint-ance, repentance, revision—they all ask something big of us. “Yearning for a new way will not produce it,” Neale Donald Walsch writes. “You cannot hold onto the old, all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.”
There’s so much we’d like to see changed. And any of us, all of us, can be change-makers. Deep down in the substrata of our agency is this tiny muscle called “release.” Or, if you’re Buddhist, it’s called “letting go.” Or, if you’re Christian, it’s called “surrender.” Or, if you’re a writer, it’s called “killing your darlings.” Regardless, exercising that muscle is good for us. It’s spiritual fitness, well worth doing daily. The time is at hand! Practice releasing the old in some small way today, because we sure as heck need something new. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Revision can change your life! Well, if you’re a writer it can. Come to The Revision Revival at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality on November 17, 2017, where these fantastic people will make you love revision by sharing their stories: P.S. Duffy, Kyoko Katayama, Susan Power, Vanessa Ramos, Jim Robinson, Roseanne Pereira, and Sieglinda Gassman.
We’ll also celebrate the publication of Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice, which is now available for preorder!
Other upcoming events:
Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
November 10: Holy Sexuality
December 8: The World Boiled Down to a Drop
September 24-28, 2018: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.