Speaking to the Soul: The Sin that Lurks

Week of 1 Epiphany, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 119:1-24 (morning) // 12, 13, 14 (evening)

Genesis 4:1-16

Hebrews 2:11-18

John 1:(29-34)35-42

Today’s first reading introduces us to the evil that lurks in the human heart. The passage tells the story of the world’s first two brothers, Cain and Abel. Both brothers make offerings to God, but God prefers Abel’s gift of animals to Cain’s gift of produce. When Cain is fuming with anger, God approaches him with a warning about Cain’s feelings of rejection, jealousy, and wrath. God says, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Far from mastering this sin, though, Cain plans and carries out the murder of his brother.

I always hear the story of Cain and Abel alongside a short story that we read in ninth grade. The story, called “The Scarlet Ibis,” helped me to recognize an evil that I’d never noticed or acknowledged within myself. The two main characters in this story were brothers. The younger one, nicknamed Doodle, had physical limitations, a weak heart, and developmental delays. The older one, known only as Brother, was frustrated with his younger brother’s inability to walk, run, or roughhouse. In the story’s last scene, Brother tried to force Doodle to row a boat and then fend for himself in a rainstorm.

The story includes a line that struck my thirteen-year-old heart. Brother confesses, “There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love . . . and at times I was mean to Doodle.” For me, it was such a shock and relief to see this evil named: “a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love.” I detected a deeply suppressed and denied form of that evil within myself. I’m so glad that I got to see it exposed in a story rather than letting it haunt me or grow behind the scenes of my life.

The sooner we recognize this “lurking” sin that God points out to Cain, or this knot of cruelty that Brother confesses, the better we will be able to love others. There may be deep within us an impulse to be cruel to those who are weak, and even to those we are bound to by love. I don’t know why human beings are this way, but when we recognize the knot of cruelty, we can surrender it, dismantle it, and let it go in the sight of God who accepts us as we are.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with education, young adult ministry, and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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