Guilt is the responsibility for wrongdoing. Apart from the wrong we are each of us responsible for personally, in a sense no wrong is done anywhere that we are not all of us responsible for collectively. With or without knowing it, either through what we have done or what we have failed to do, we have all helped create the kind of world mess that makes wrongdoing inevitable. The danger of our guilt, both personal and collective, is less that we won't take it to heart than that we'll take it to heart overmuch and let it fester there in ways that we ourselves often fail to recognize. We condemn in others the wrong we don't want to face in ourselves. We grow vindictive against the right for showing up our wrong as wrong. The sense of our own inner brokenness estranges us from the very ones who could help patch us together again. We steer clear of setting things right with the people we have wronged since their mere presence is a thorn in our flesh. Our desire to be clobbered for our guilt and thus rid of it tempts us to do things we will be clobbered for. The dismal variations are endless. More often than not, guilt is not merely the consequence of wrongdoing, but the extension of it.

It is about as hard to absolve yourself of your own guilt as it is to sit in your own lap. Wrongdoing sparks guilt sparks wrongdoing ad nauseam, and we all try to disguise the grim process from both ourselves and everybody else. In order to break the circuit we need friends before whom we can put aside the disguise, trusting that when they see us for what we fully are, they won't run away screaming with, if nothing worse, laughter. Our trust in them leads us to trust their trust in us. In their presence the fact of our guilt no longer makes us feel and act out our guiltiness. For a moment at least the vicious circle stops circling and we can step down onto the firm ground of their acceptance, where maybe we'll be able to walk a straight line again. "Your sins are forgiven," Jesus said to the paralytic, then "Rise," whereupon the man picked up his bed and went home (Matthew 9:2-7).

~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

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