Penitent

Life often casts us in roles that we feel we cannot escape. Into lives that feel like their own alternative to our incarceration;  Roles in the form of bondage from mental illness, a physical impairment, or anything else limiting our reach.  A life in which our world is a prison cell sized realm of safety, security, and opportunity because of circumstance or environment.

But the feeling is wrong. We can escape even the most unfair and consuming of lifes trials, if we know exactly what it is we are running from and have the right guidance in which is the best road that will deliver us, our way, from it. We as a society need a change in our mentality of assuming that all those who choose wrong roads do so intentionally.  We need to understand that more often than not, a path chosen didn’t appear to be wrong; but by the time the illusion wore off, the traveler has already been lost in a long stretch of what feels like there’s no turning back. If we offered praise for back tracking, compassion to those who are starting over, and encouraged confidence instead of failure in those who turned around and found the missed turn and right road home, we could grow a society in which less people find themselves caged in any type of  way. We could grow into a community cultivating our future rather than one whose sweeping our present under the rug, hoping the mistakes of our past magically go away.

“A [mathematical] sum [incorrectly worked] can be put right; but only by going back till you find the error and then working it fresh from that point. [It will] never [be corrected] by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good, [worlds without end]. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound.” [C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan Co., 1973), p. 6]

Time alone does not heal or punish any act into a corrected behavior. Our societies current process of waiting until judgement, delivering a punishment of waiting after that judgement is handed down, and then resubmitting a person into society expecting that time spent waiting to have absolved a person completely of their afflictions is absurd. Caging a problem, hiding it away, ignoring it for a period of time, making yourself forget it exists, etc. None of these things serve to solve any thing, regardless of the situation. An Illness ignored doesn’t equate to a miraculously healthy individul. Just as a person restricted from acting upon any sort of reform, a person condemned to living a portion of their life alone, while life goes on without them; doesn’t equate to a healthy, average citizen coming out in the end.

Time does change people; Please don’t confuse what I’m saying as a person’s immediate ability to change. It takes a lot of time to understand the need for change. Understanding that is needed in order to implement the desire to change. Then even more allowed time for that desire and implementation to transform into good habits and even more time after that for those habits to become changed behavior. Even after all of that,  throughout the rest of time, time needs to be spent sharpening those skills to keep the behavior from becoming once again, a bad habit.

But the belief that time spent punished, waiting, without the ability to take any action; is the best way to facilitate reform and change, only forces everyone to pray that things “develop” into good.

But prayers without action are hard to answer and while God is our greatest, perfect judge, we are lucky he is also merciful; and his mercies lie within those who are truly penitent.

The definition of Penitent is as follows:
1. feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong; repentant.

I have a very good feeling that our leaders were following our greatest Judges’ example of judgement and forgiveness.  I believe that from this example came the basis on which our judicial system was founded.

Because if you add i-a-r-y to the end of the word Penitent, it becomes…

Penitentiary.

This is not a place meant to house individuals to be punished at our discretion and determination– it is a refuge we were meant to go to to find faith and to remind ourselves of our own humanity. A place to encourage growth and facilitate situations to expiate previous wrong doings. Society can not impose time limits, restrictions, or labled judgements around how a person does that. We all need to do things in our own time, in our own way; to be true to what it is we are doing. Placing general guidelines and conditions on something like this, serves as nothing more than a guarantee of individuals failure.

For any person striving to live righteously, this existence is already a difficult, testing time. Even the most faithful are plagued with temptations from a world that already appears to have lost itself. The challenge to live in the world but not of the world is a constant, daily struggle for each and every person on it.

Those who stumble the most within that challenge, those who fail so frequently to think and do that which is right are not evidence against righteous living or the desire to be doing so. People do not falter in the path of righteousness simply because they are doing nothing else, we falter because too often we lose our confidence within ourselves, our relationships with others, and our stature with God. Those who can’t seem to “get it right” are not choosing to take the wrong steps; they are usually falling and reaching to gain footing anywhere they can find solid ground on their way down. No one wants to be the one falling, but we have all been there and once you are – by unforeseen circumstances or disillusioned roads – catching a break, regaining our footing, finding the breath to climb again; are the hardest, yet most courageous acts we’ll ever have to face. Punishing those in the midst of that defining period, by taking away any ground at all, leaving them stuck in a perpetual free fall, hidden away and told to wait, simply because they cant “get it right” is cruel and far from just on our end.

These are lines from the valedictory address at Utah state prison, May 23, 1974 given by an inmate who had spent half his life there.

“The incessant din and cackling ado of this turbulent life drown out the message which asserts that, as man is, God once was and that, as God is, man may become. If we will not dance to the music of materialism and hedonism but will remain attuned to the voice of godly reason, we will be led to the green pastures of respite and the still waters of spiritual refreshment. All the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune this world can hurl against us are as nothing when compared to the rewards for steadfastness and faithfulness. It would behoove us all to fix our sights more consistently upon the things which are everlasting and eternal. This world is not our home.”

We have missed the message as humans.

And even if you don’t believe in God or his place in our society – we have to believe in each other and this message is one I am giving you now without religious contract.

If we can repent of our sins and be charitable with the afflictions of others. If we can take courage toward our circumstances and desire to do something about them. If we can see eachother as fellow people instead of the mistakes we’ve made. There is a power in that we can harness. A power in the form of God or whomever it is you hold yourself accountable too that can serve as a catalyst to not only change, but monumental growth.

“Trust in what’s to come and have your strength renewed that you may be borne as on the wings of eagles, that you may run and not be weary, that you may walk and not faint.May you so run on the right road and even if you must be redirected to be there again, we can continue to all be born free as on the wings of eagles.”

We have implemented an approach to hardships and struggle that is not reformative but only punitive and civilizations can not and will not grow from punitive action alone. There is no chance for advancement in a society that leaves any of it’s people behind. We are all worth the faith and ability to escape our situations. We are all worth as many chances as it takes.

We are all worth everything; Every effort, and every opportunity. Every restart and every ounce of faith.

Everyone is capable of building a life they can be proud of. A life they can stand confidently and stable in,  regardless of what kind of ground they had to sow and what tools they were given. They just need a place and chance to prove it.

Sincerely, me

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