Five minutes ago, the global crisis was the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Covid has taken a backseat to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile” (CCC 386).
That dark reality is playing out now in Ukraine. But if we lay this travesty solely at the feet of Vladimir Putin, we overlook a profound piece of the human puzzle.
To understand ourselves and the world’s events, we need the benefit of a good theology of original sin. Although we no longer take the story of Adam and Eve and the apple literally, when we look deeper we see that the story contains profound archetypal truths about our history and about ourselves. I can’t help but see a parallel between the Russian incursion into Ukraine and the killing of Abel by his aggressive brother, Cain.
I remember thinking as a child how unfair it was that I got stuck with the black mark of original sin when I hadn’t done anything to deserve it,
and unbaptized babies going to Limbo really threw me. Fortunately, we have moved passed that theological construct. Now I see original sin in the words of the catechism - a dark reality of human existence.
I don’t want to give up the Adam and Eve story completely. We learned many morals in that Garden. For one, whether individually or collectively, we find that we are helpless to save ourselves. None of us is as morally whole as we would like to think we are. We acknowledge that something is inherently wrong, but we prefer to call it less symbolic names. So we speak of authoritarianism, corporate structures, communism, capitalism, or even religion itself. To quote Reinhold Niebuhr:
Original sin is that thing about man
which makes him capable of conceiving
of his own perfection,
and incapable of achieving it.
Original sin is that seductive hiss that whispers to us that we have no need for God’s creative energy. We believe our own fake news - that we can be morally whole all by ourselves.
We live our lives as if selfishness and greed are simply learned behaviors; as if somewhere there are perfectly functioning families, churches, and institutions, and that our own are anomalies. In the end, we believe we can save ourselves without God. Even those of us who acknowledge God often thwart the Divine design by letting our egos get the better of us.
So how do we reconcile the seeming incongruity between our natural make-up and God’s intent for us? By remembering the most important gift we plucked from the Garden. Original sin is not the original truth about us. Before we were anything else, we were made in God’s image.
Being made in the image of God does not mean that God is a physical being with two arms, a head, etc. Our ability to reason and think abstractly comes from God. Our capacities for intellect, emotion, and will come from God. We are capable of using all of these for good and evil. The most important aspect of the “Imago Dei” - our True Self – is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We carry infinity in a finite body in a finite world. When we attune ourselves to the Spirit, our True Self prevails.
Being made in God’s image gives us the ability to connect to God through prayer. I’m not sure how prayer works. I do know that it matters when someone says they are praying for me. I also find Nadia Bolz Weber’s imagery of prayer helpful:
“When we pray we hold ourselves, our loved ones and the world up to God and then we pass it off for the next person to do the same. And these prayers - these times when we mindfully hold others in the presence of God, are like gossamer threads connecting us to God and to God’s children. When we pray on another’s behalf, we become connected to that person through God, and we become connected to God through that person. Maybe these silken threads that connect us to God and to one another, even to our enemies, is how God is stitching our broken humanity back together. So definitely pray without ceasing because God has work to do.
Pray for Ukraine, Pray for Russia, Pray for Peace
Artwork by Antoinette Winters at https://amwinters.com