Long before Robbie Coltrane became Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, he was a “nun on the run.” I love this picture. If you haven’t seen it — and most people haven’t — I recommend it. The plot in a nutshell is this…Robbie Coltrane and Eric Idle are career criminals who, after a change in their gang’s hierarchy, decide to do one last heist to bankroll their escape from the gang and the UK altogether. Things go wrong and they find themselves hiding out disguised as nuns. Robbie Coltrane’s character, Charlie McManus, grew up in the Catholic church and uses his unique take on the doctrines to assimilate to their new surroundings in the convent. It is this interesting view that I found most appealing in the film. Here he explains the sacrifice…
” …it’s the doctrine of original sin. You see, we’re all born sinful, except for Jesus who was perfect of course. And he was sent to save us. But how could he save us unless we’re sinning? So we have to go on sinning in order to be saved and go to Heaven. That’s how Christianity works. That’s why it suits so many people.”
I was 20 when I saw this film. This monologue has always stuck with me. I often said who I was 25 years ago is very different than who I am now. But I realize today that is not true. I think that who I was then is the same as who I am now and in all likelihood who I will be tomorrow; it is my perception of who I am, my place in the world and my behaviors that have changed through the decades.
After seeing this film initially, I reflected on this scene and asked myself…is it our moral obligation to sin? My answer was a very strong…yes. Anyone who knew me when I was 20 could easily see why.
Through the decades, as I have exited and entered different stages of my life, I have periodically repeated the question to myself…is it our moral obligation to sin? My answer is inevitably…yes. But where there was once shame and isolation attached to sin, today I see potential for growth and unity.
I grew up differently than most people. I write a lot about that. One of the best things about the way I grew up was that I was exposed to different faiths and, to an extent, learned their traditions, participating in many of them. I was never locked into a single faith. I think that this fed my desire to study theology, exploring a wide variety of religions and philosophies in order to create my own sense of spirituality. In my home, I had a strong Catholic influence from my Abuelita and a strong Jewish influence from my grandmother who raised me, Mama.
Mama didn’t go to temple but always identified herself as a Jew. She was proud of her heritage and passed her pride along to me. We lit the menorah that she placed next to our Christmas tree every Hannukah. We ate matzoh every Passover. On Yom Kippur, we lit yahrzeit candles to honor those who died and, of course, we fasted. Well, Mama fasted. As a child under 13, it was not expected of me. I tried anyway. Some years I was more successful than others. There was something about the tradition that I found comforting. The tradition of fasting is done in order to make the soul feel uncomfortable by denying it the things that give our bodies comfort as humans: food, water, bathing. Experiencing this temporary discomfort lends itself to sympathizing with others when they are in pain or discomfort. It fosters a feeling of repentance for that which we have caused. During this fast of the body and discomfort of the soul, our minds are devoted to reflection upon the past year, our behaviors, interactions and sins. Once a year this confession goes to God and forgiveness is sought.
It took me most of my lifetime to understand that this day can be embraced with love rather than from a place of fear. It is our sin that separates us as humans from the other animals we share this earth with and from the Divine. In the past, I equated sin with “evil.” It isn’t. Evil is a separate entity. While its possibilities live within all of us, it is not a necessary component of the human condition. It is exceptional. Sin is inevitable. It is the burden of the gift of reason our species was blessed with. We are not perfect. We were made to fail. We were made to at times inflict pain and at times to receive pain. And because of this, we have the capacity to forgive, to be forgiven and to become better than we were before. This, too, separates us from the other animals we share this earth with…but it unites us with instead of separates us from the Divine.
I think that it is the acknowledgement of the inevitability of sin that keeps evil away rather than welcoming it. I am in a program that teaches me that life is all about progress, not perfection. I think that when you set expectations of perfection, it necessitates deceit, repression and shame. That is the breeding ground for evil…or at least for living in perpetuity of poor decisions made from a place of fear.
On this Day of Atonement, I face myself without shame. I am human. I am as I was created. Today, I embrace my humanity and learn to forgive myself. I have always been the greatest obstacle in my own personal growth. If God can forgive me, I should find a way to allow myself to forgive me, too. Today, I meditate on what positive action I can take this year to become more, to celebrate my humanity and all that comes with that experience.
So…again I ask…is it our moral obligation to sin? And again inevitably my answer is…yes. It is also our moral obligation to ask forgiveness because that will strengthen our ability to forgive and grow regardless of what faith we follow.
L’shana tovah. G’mar chatimah tovah.
Sweet New Year. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.