Rich Paxson

Receiving a new story —

Forgiveness preceding ‘transgressions or sins’ is an aspect of Atonement liturgy that’s hovered close to my consciousness in recent days. James wrote in “Jesus the Forgiving Victim” (page 243):

“It is the process of atonement or forgiveness which opens up the possibility of imagining in what ways we might have fallen short, or be falling short, of what we are called to be and to become. Transgressions, sins, are derived from forgiveness, which massively precedes them enabling us to understand them to be understood as that which can be forgiven.”

My wife and I traveled with another couple last weekend to Galena, Illinois for that small town’s Christmas Luminaria Festival. Beginning at twilight, Galena’s residents lighted thousands of luminaria candles in white paper bags throughout the hilly streets above the central business district nestled below in the river valley where we were enjoying the festivities. The luminaria twinkling above us in the winter sky contributed greatly to our weekend celebration.

One person at a time lighting their candle in the hills above made the darkening night into something entirely new, not just candles in the dark, but visible light stitching together the surrounding darkness. I remembered what James wrote about atonement being preceded by forgiveness. Perhaps when I accept responsibility for a personal sin, it’s like lighting a luminaria candle. Striking the match corresponds to an admission of the transgression in the darkness of rivalrous striving against, rather than loving, my neighbor. The candle is God’s preceding forgiveness which perfectly offsets my hurtful or thoughtless act. Candles burn for minutes or hours just as repentance proceeds through time before it is accomplished over time.

The light of God’s loving atonement precedes our sin freeing us to repent. The light of God’s loving atonement never goes out. The spark from God that brings a flame to the candle I light is one stitch in a sparkling new material robing the world, like the elegant robe of light that materialized last weekend one candle at a time in the hills above Galena.

Forgiveness in advance is the thread that stitches us together. Lighting candles of repentance reveals both the rivalry of mimetic darkness and God’s presence forgiving that rivalry from within. The beauty of uncounted millions of candles lighted by sparks of God’s unceasing forgiveness calls us into love and respect, one for the other.