Monday, July 02, 2012

Doing And Saying Through Compunction

The Oikos from Matins for SS. Peter and Paul:

Make my tongue to speak plainly, O my Saviour; enlarge my mouth and fill it, and give my heart compunction that I may be the first to follow what I say and do what I teach; for everyone that both does and teaches, it is said the same is great.  For if I speak without doing, I am reckoned as a sounding brass.  Therefore, grant me to say what is needful and do what is expedient, O You who alone knows the secrets of our hearts.

Saying and doing.  Following what I teach.  The Church shows us in this prayer that this kind of integrity begins with compunction of heart, which itself is a gift that must be sought.  "Compunction" means piercing, as in "puncture."  It is the pierced, the wounded heart that is able actually both to say and do, teach and follow.  

Most of us imagine that we do what we say and follow what we teach.  It usually takes a crisis, an extreme situation, or an embarrassing public failure for us to see through the narrative (the story) we have been telling ourselves.  We tell a story of ourselves to ourselves in which we are right, or basically right; and whatever discrepancies between what I say and do, teach and follow are due to the fault of others.  I am a victim.  I had no choice.  I have an explanation, an exception, an excuse.  It's not my fault.

Compunction comes from accepting our fault--or better yet, excepting our weakness, our illness, our inability, our confusion, our sin.  Fault is a somewhat misleading word, for it implies intention; it implies that you would indeed have integrity if you really wanted it, if you really cared, if you really tried harder.  Understanding fault this way turns even our failures into sources of pride.  Understanding fault this way deprives us of compunction, the beginning of change, the beginning of integrity.

There is a pain of heart that is normal.  It is normal to feel pain when you are wounded, when you are pierced.  Because we are wounded we feel pain.  But this pain, when offered to God, when attended to, can become a bridle for our tongue and a spur for our action. It can teach us to say only what is needful and to do what is expedient (in the older sense of the word, that is to do quickly what needs to be done).  

Sometimes, self pity is mistaken for compunction of heart.  Sometimes it is difficult for me to tell the difference in my own heart.  However, the fruit manifests the tree.  Self pity cripples.  Self pity accuses and blames.  Self pity wallows.  Compunction of heart leads to clear, moderate speech and faithful, humble action.

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