Dear Cynthia,

In my Systematics Theology class in seminary, the professor has asked us to write on the following question, and I would love your take on this. The question is: “The Christian theological tradition has tended to view sin as a state or condition of corruption that subsists apart from and prior to any specific actions a person performs. Do you see merit to this conception of sin? If so, why? If not, why not?”

As a Christian Theologian, I am wondering what your thoughts are on sin? Where does kenosis fit into sin? Do acts of sin come from the ego? If we are able to empty our egos through kenosis through the practice of Centering Prayer, can we rid ourselves of sin that way? Or is our tendency to sin simply a given and a fact that we must live with? St. Julian of Norwich says, “Sin is necessary, but all shall be well, and all shall be well . . .” What are your thoughts about this, Cynthia? Thank you so much for your availability to us.


Wow, great questions, Lava: to be pondered deeply more than resolved and explained away.

A lot of the conundrum mitigates when you shift the lens of perception from the singular to the collective. Augustine’s challenging doctrine of Original Sin begins to make more sense when you re-envision it as a “web of woundedness.”  We are all born into this web whether we like it or not:  the errors of omission and commission enacted unwittingly by one generation set the conditions and terms for the next: (The old “abused ones tend to become themselves abusers.”) In her brilliant 1997 book GOD’S ECSTASY, Beatrice Bruteau points out how the very conditions that become the seedbed for exclusion, oppression, self-preservation, and even violence are clearly evident even at the cellular level and are the inevitable shadow side of the core evolutionary principle, symbiotic unity.

Thus, I would say that the general conditions conducive to the emergence of sin are part and parcel of the boundary conditions that make this universe what it is. Dame Julian is quite right here.

Now that being said, free choice remains as to the degree that one is going to surmount these conditions by becoming conscious of them and avoiding entrapment (and the only known route that works consistently here is kenosis, or non-identification.) The author of the Cloud of Unknowing claimed boldly that the “work of contemplation” (as he calls it) “destroys the root and  ground of sin” because it precisely contains that self-projective tendency of the mind, the proclivity toward grasping at our thought forms as if they were are reality. In a state of non-grasping —a.k.a., equanimity— it’s hard for those conditions of violence, fantasizing, fear, and judgment which are the active drivers of sin to get an initial foothold.

How does that set with you?