Can Redemption Be a Choice?
from Marlene J. Geary, Chair, Sunday Services Committee
Andy: My wife used to say I’m a hard man to know. Like a closed book. Complained about it all the time. She was beautiful. God I loved her. I just didn’t know how to show it, that’s all. I killed her, Red. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I drove her away. And that’s why she died, because of me.
Andy: It comes down to a simple choice: get busy living or get busy dying.
– Shawshank Redemption
In the movie Shawshank Redemption, there are several intertwining stories of redemption. The primary story is that of Andy Dufresne, who has been sent to Shawshank after having been convicted of killing his wife and her lover. Most people watch the movie and believe that Andy is innocent, some viewers are not so sure, but regardless of whether or not Andy actually pulled the trigger, he believes he’s killed her. He carries that guilt.
So, Andy finds ways to pay for the crime against his wife: he builds a much better prison library and starts literacy programs to help the lives of other prisoners.
But that’s not where it ends: that’s not the redemption. Andy might have chosen to work his entire life in the prison and never let himself stop paying for the crime he’s committed. He has a choice: he can carry the guilt for the rest of his life and simply stop living because of it, or he can choose to live.
So Andy opens up the opportunity for redemption: he allows himself the chance to be done atoning for his crime. He chooses the chance to live a life where the slate has been wiped clean, where he has been redeemed.
This chance is his tunnel: Andy starts digging himself a tunnel out of the prison. It takes decades, carving out inch by precious inch of cement. In the end, he escapes with a long crawl down a dark sewage tunnel, but in the end, as the movie says, he comes out clean. He’s free. He is delivered from the guilt he carries; he is redeemed.
Can you offer yourself redemption? Will you let yourself be redeemed? Will you let yourself be your own redeemer? Is there a place in your life where you carry such guilt that you cannot get busy living? If you’re paying for mistakes you’ve made, have you thought about the redemption endgame? We’re all very good at paying for crimes we’ve committed, but can we allow ourselves the choice to be redeemed? Can we allow others to make that choice?
Redemption: A Humanist Perspective
by Jerry Lusa, Sunday Services Committee
“Redemption” started as a religious word meaning to pay a price to become free from the consequences of sin. Today it can mean the act, process, or an instance of redeeming, which in turn means buying back, freeing, or compensating for faults. We can reach redemption (an instance), or we can practice redemption (the process).
Redemption helps us recover from choices, actions, or even inaction that we later come to regret. I carry such a regret with me, one that arose from inaction. It’s not overwhelming; I could easily let it go. I choose to carry it because of the ongoing redemption the telling of it gives me, and thus begins my tale: “There was a ship…”
My grandmother Patricia Murray Lusa loved to read, and she worked at keeping her mind sharp. One way she kept sharp in her later years was to memorize Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – all 625 lines! It took her a couple years of nightly practice to memorize the whole poem. Each night before sleep as she lay in bed she would start reciting from the beginning until she reached the part where she had left off the night before, and then she would add a few more lines to her repertoire. I remember the glee with which she recited the poem in its entirety for us, and while I can’t vouch for her precision I’m inclined to believe she got it right word for word.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was written in the late 1790’s in an archaic form of English even for its day, using Rime instead of Rhyme for example. Coleridge’s contemporaries found this annoying. Still it has endured; almost everyone has heard its most ubiquitous lines though they might not know the source…
Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.
Those who know of the poem will know that an albatross is involved, from which we get the phrase, “an albatross around their neck”…
Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung.
But the poem isn’t about water or albatrosses; it’s about redemption. The titular mariner spends much of the poem enduring various trials and tribulations as redemption for having killed said bird, and his redemption is also ongoing: he is cursed to retell his tale in perpetuity…
Since then, at an uncertain hour, That agony returns: And till my ghastly tale is told, This heart within me burns.
And here resumes my own tale of regret, for I too carry an albatross. In the early 1980’s I was living alone in the city, working at my first job. I was only vaguely aware that my grandmother Patricia was ill. She seemed healthy in the summer of 1982 when I invited her and my grandfather to my workplace to show them our mini-computer, the first computer they had ever seen in person. When she died in a hospital in 1983 I wasn’t even aware she had been hospitalized. I learned later that she didn’t want people to see her in her emaciated condition.
I wish I had known she was so ill, that I had paid more attention to her health, and that she had let me visit her. This is the albatross I carry. Like the ancient mariner, my redemption is perpetual. The mariner must tell his tale at an uncertain hour, and I tell my tale to those who will listen.
Redemption: A Buddhist Perspective
by Nancy Thompson
After the Tiger Woods scandal three years ago, where he was revealed to have had affairs, a Fox News commentator suggested that Woods should convert from Buddhism to Christianity. “I don’t think (Buddhism) offers the kind of … redemption that is offered by the Christian faith,” Brit Hume said. He’s right. Redemption means the settling of a debt, whether of monetary or spiritual value, and Buddhism has no concept that covers that. It’s said that you can have “karmic debt” to those who have been kind to you and those to whom you have been unkind, but it can’t be redeemed. It’s not a one-to-one relationship; it’s more like an attitude or tendency, a turning of the mind from meanness to kindness. That happens by understanding interdependence (respect for the worth and dignity of all beings, the first UU principle, and the impact our actions have one others).
There’s no cosmic ledger of debts, of who’s done what to whom. You can have an effect on events in the future by acting in the present moment, but there’s no way to make up for or absolve yourself of past deeds except to change the way you act. Buddhism is a path of personal responsibility – only you know what you have done that causes suffering for yourself or others and only you can change that. Practices can point out the way, but you have to take the action.