In the image of God

There is a saying, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t,” and I’m one of those people who can’t pray some of the words in the changed liturgy.

The problem is not ‘consubstantiation’ and a sprinkling of clumsy English, but a couple of statements that have no meaning for me.

For example, I can’t quote the Roman centurion who said to Jesus, “I’m not worthy that you should come under my roof…”

The centurion wasn’t requesting healing for himself, but for his servant. At this intimate time in the Communion rite, I am asking for healing for me.

But the real road-block comes with asking for healing for my soul.

You see, I believe that my soul comes from God, is of God and returns to God. Our souls are not apart from God but a part of God.

So to ask for my soul to be healed, is to ask for God to be healed.

That’s nonsense. It’s all the rest of me that needs healing.

This concern is personal, and I don’t mind if others pray these particular changes in the liturgy. I can always say the first words, then whisper the old version to myself.

This Lent I’ve been reflecting on the Judaic understanding of the soul. Rabbinic sages say that the soul is always pure, no matter what happens to the rest of us. I suspect that one of the early Church fathers meant much the same thing when stating that we are part animal and part angel.

In Judaism the pure soul wears three garments: thought, word and deed. These garments will become stained and need regular cleansing.

Isn’t that also our Catholic understanding?

I wish I knew Biblical Hebrew.

I have only a few words that are significant for me, because they cannot be translated simply into English; some would need a sentence or even a paragraph of explanation, I’ve been told.

Take the word Teshuvah for example.

It is usually translated as Repent – which is not wrong but inadequate.

Teshuvah means literally “to turn” and has very practical instruction that has little to do with guilt and remorse.

To do Teshuvah, is to simply turn from an evil thought, word or action, to a good thought, word or action.

In replacing evil with good, the garments of the soul are cleansed and our true nature, made in the image and likeness of God, shines through.

I had a rabbi friend – now with God – who said that when he felt stressed and overworked, he would stand on a street corner, watch people go by, and say to himself, “There goes a pure soul. There goes a pure soul. There goes a pure soul…”

To look at people and see the likeness of God, is to change the way we feel about the world and the world’s understanding of itself. God is manifest in everyone, although sometimes the soul’s garments become so heavy with ignorance and error, that we lose awareness of the sacred treasure within us.

Whether it’s Teshuvah or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a great blessing of Lent is that it offers laundry time.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.

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