St. John of the Ladder wrote that compunction is “the grief that leads to joy.” This is the grief that comes from first feeling loved, then seeing how far we are from the character of love. It is always grounded in God’s character, not our wretchedness. Smith wonders how many of us have actually experienced this.
Often our penitence is preoccupied with our wretchedness, anxiously hoping that God will be faithful to God’s character. True compunction weeps tears that mingle awe with self-knowledge with expectant hope.
I worry that we Christians have followed the ways of our culture in how we think about our societal failing. We are forever looking backward at ourselves. When we do look ahead, as with the environment, it is with dread fear. Compunction believes that if we start with God and end with God and weep our tears and scream our rage and confront our complicity within God, new solutions and deeper healing WILL come. This is radical trust in what the Spirit of Jesus is doing in us. Christian tears ought to water the earth to reap with songs of joy.
For whatever reason, a quote from Julian of Norwich lingers with me in response to this reading:
“But often when our falling and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so much afraid and so greatly ashamed of ourselves that we scarcely know where we can put ourselves. But then our courteous Mother does not wish us to flee away, for nothing would be less pleasing to him; but he then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to the mother for help with all its might. So he wants us to act as a meek child, saying: My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my beloved Mother, have mercy on me. I have made myself filthy and unlike you, and I may not and cannot make it right except with your help and grace. . . . And then he wants us to show a child’s characteristics,
which always naturally trusts in its mother’s love in well-being and in woe.”
In what ways might you ask God to turn your shocked shame or panicked regret into true compunction? Now, look inward at the Spirit of Jesus within you working with all God’s love to make it right. Offer Hym praise.
The Rev. adwoa Wilson