Dealing with shame restores the power to live

Published 4:29 pm Thursday, November 9, 2023

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I try to be in the church office by 8 a.m. The goal is to say my prayers and spend some time with God before the day, before the week begins. I am learning that it is best to not switch on the computer, leaving a blank screen, so that it cannot emit those tempting messages that seem to demand a response.

But this past Monday, my plans were challenged. For some reason the church (not the church hall, not the rectory) was without electricity. It was cold and it was dark. It was hard to read the texts and it was hard to feel comfortable.

I did my best knowing that God would be sympathetic and, as always, full of grace.

Only a few hours later, the power was restored and we were told that some miscreant squirrel had gnawed at the cable carrying power to the church. I wondered whether the little creature had suffered much for that troublesome behavior.

It reminded me of the time, years ago in England, when Wendy and I returned home to be met by our energetic yellow Labrador puppy (Runcie, for short). To our amazement, Runcie was proudly carrying an electric plug and short cord in his mouth. Like our naughty squirrel, Runcie had chewed and gnawed the cord of our refrigerator. Surely a miracle that he was not electrocuted; he must, in innate canine wisdom have removed the plug first before he began gnawing and chewing.

Bill Wilson (co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) writes that “fears are the termites that ceaselessly devour the foundations of whatever sort of life we try to build”. Just as the squirrel devoured the cord that gave Zion church electricity, just as Runcie devoured the cord that powered our refrigerator so “fears” can gnaw away at the very foundations of our lives.

And not only fears. I read this week about Matthew Perry; how, in his autobiography, he describes his life as filled with shame about so many things. “Shame is a dominant theme in Mr. Perry’s memoir, and life. Mr. Perry… was determined to break the cycle”. And Ben Affleck, speaking of his own struggles, wrote, “Shame is really toxic. There is no positive byproduct of shame”.

It was shame in that paradisiac Garden of Eden that caused Adam and Eve to hide; shame that broke the fellowship between creature and creator, between creature and creature.

Episcopal churches offer formal, and also informal, times for confession. Times when, without fear, what shames us can be articulated, confronted and healed. Other churches, other faiths, 12 Step Programs offered differing programs but the goal is the same – to rescue the one who suffers from crippling and paralyzing shame.

What shames us gnaws away at that which gives us live and happiness. Maybe it is time to deal with it in order… to restore power to live?

Alan Neale is the Rector at Zion Episcopal Church in Washingotn.