I am a big fan of penance. After all, my vocation as a Secular Franciscan is to "produce worthy fruits of penance." So when Mike Huckabee called on the country to get on its knees and repent, I thought I would start with myself.
For me, doing penance--that is, repenting--is a spiritual practice that helps me become a more loving, compassionate, and merciful person (just as God is loving, compassionate, and merciful). Here are three ways that I can repent:
- Practice nonresistance. When confronted with anger or force, I will not respond in kind. The underlying philosophy of tai chi chuan is that softness always defeats hardness. If I apply this philosophy when I am confronted with anger and hostility, I will not meet anger with anger or hostility with hostility. I will not be hard. I will be soft. I will yield with a kind nod and a smile. This is exactly what Jesus counseled (see Matthew 5:39).
- Accept my demons. Call them demons. Call them my false self. Call them my small self. Call them my ego. Whatever their name--and they are legion--these are the things that keep me from seeing myself as the person God made me to be. To accept my demons means to attend to them without judgment, to observe them, and not to react or resist them (see point #1 above). Doing this, I deny them of their energy and their control over me.
- Accept others for who they are. "Be reconciled with your brother," Jesus told his disciples (Matthew 5:24). When I am reconciled with my brothers and sisters, I live in harmony with them. I don't have to agree with them--I just have to pay attention to them, see where they are in pain, and meet them there so I can give them comfort.
If each of us practices these three acts of penance, I am sure that the United States would indeed be a more just place for all people. However, I'm not sure that this is what Mike Huckabee had in mind. But then again, repentance is a spiritual practice, not a campaign slogan.