This week’s Did You Know is excerpted from a South Bend History professor’s latest book “Changed by Grace”… Neither V.C. Kitchen nor his wife, were willing to acknowledge how deeply they were affected by her first and his second Oxford Group House Party. But after they got home, the walls of secrecy, both had erected, began tumbling down: “The miracle, in fact, began to happen as soon as we reached home. I found myself sitting on the sofa by my wife. She started the conversation and then, without knowing exactly how or why, I found myself blurting out the whole story that I was never going to tell anybody. To my amazement, my wife had something to tell, too. We both were taken by surprise and then by a sense of great relief which, to me, proved even more surprising”…Kitchen said that by this point in life he had convinced himself he didn’t actually have shameful “secret acts and desires,” but until he sat down on that sofa, he felt these were things which he would never be willing to reveal to anyone else in the world. Even though he would have acknowledged what stopped him from telling them was an overpowering fear that speaking out loud about them would be too embarrassing for him to bear, he was paying no attention to that warning signal, and was still pretending to himself that these things were not troubling his conscience. He was still lying to himself that his secrets were not bothering him, and that he was perfectly all right with leaving them untold.
Many modern writers on psychology and spirituality try to make highly technical distinctions between shame and guilt as though they were mutually exclusive categories at all times and places. When I have done things and thought things, however, which I’ve never admitted to another human being, this is a dead-give-away that I have some kind of guilt-laden memory buried in my mind that’s causing me to feel shame, which is going to fester there and make me spiritually sicker and sicker, no matter how much I argue with myself intellectually that this is no one else’s business but my own. And it will always be in some sense or other a matter of conscience, even when I try to pretend to myself it’s not.
It should be said: the things that bother us the most are not necessarily lurid tales of depravity but are nevertheless secrets. It’s often said around the tables of A.A., “We are only as sick as our secrets.”
For example, the things Kitchen’s wife told him that evening certainly should not have caused her any kind of enormous uneasiness of conscience as far as he was concerned. And although our deep-rooted secrets hold an awesome power over us, they hold no such power over another human being that is the main reason for sharing them with another trusted soul. The important thing however, was that the things she began confessing to him had bothered her very deeply, and had made her feel deeply ashamed of herself.
Kitchen had come to the Oxford Group to scoff, and he could still give hundreds of reasons, intellectualizations and justifications for keeping his thoughts secret. But in spite of what the rationalistic part of his mind was telling him, there he and his wife were, making an Oxford Group confession to one another. And to their surprise, it suddenly felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted from their shoulders…When we told each other fully and freely the kind of people that we really were-the kind of things we did and thought-when we took our masks off that we had worn during seventeen years of marriage and stopped pretending to each other to be something we were not-we each distinctly felt an acute sense of physical release and our secret darkness was transformed into pure light. To be continued…
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