Sin and the art of archery

I’ve been thinking Really Deep Thoughts lately, in between getting annoyed about life and things I can’t do anything about. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the things that make me annoyed and why they annoy me.

I wrote a few days ago in the comments at retired eagle’s photo blog that I was guilty of the sin of accidie, one of the medieval Seven Deadly sins. It’s basically despair and depression, and it’s something I’ve been guilty of intermittantly since I was about six years old. I know how awful that sounds and I can tell you how often people have told me I should count my blessings etc, but it doesn’t make any diference.

The English word SIN is actually a term taken from archery, that oh-so-English art. Think Agincourt, think Robin Hood: the bow is so entrenched in English lore that even today it’s technically illegal to play football on  Sunday if your parish priest has not excused you from longbow practise. Sin simply means failing to hit the target. It means being less than perfect. It doesn’t mean you’re  a criminal, or an evil person; it just means you need more practise to get it right.

This I find comforting. It also means I need more help to get it right. It doesn’t mean I need to be beaten for getting it wrong and missing the target. Imagine God as a loving archery instructor, standing close as you draw the bow, his hand steadying yours, whispering in your ear, “Bit higher, bit further up, hold it steady. Now!”

You see, it upsets me when people assume that their success in life is as a result of God blessing them, because it then implies the opposite: lack of success is God witholding his blessing. It upsets me when people take their health as a sign God is favouring them because that then says that ill health is God punishing them.

Being alive is our blessing. Life is our gift. I’m not saying that God isn’t blessing you when things go well. He might be. But God has no favourites. Blessing or cursing, it may be the same thing when you step out of time and out of being human. Go read the Book of Job if you have never done so. It might be a bit of a puzzle. It opens up ineffable mysteries(because we don’t effin’ well understand them) about God and his relationship with humans. I have no answers to this.

But for me, today, being a sinner is a good thing. It means I have room for improvement. It means I need to keep practising and spending time with my trainer, and learning more and more how to hit the target. When I get good at that, I guess he’ll just move the target further away to test my skill further, or give me a different bow, or change the parameters in some way. There is always room for improvement, when we realise that sin is not the thing we were taught it was by people who didn’t understand it themselves.

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15 thoughts on “Sin and the art of archery

  1. What a wonderful post..

    Love how you’ve been able to translate such a complex theory into a way that makes it simple to understand..

    There is definitely always room for improvement.. Be the best you you can be!

    • Thank you.
      I find the equating of sin with guilt, crime, punishment and evil unhelpful in the extreme, especially as some “sins” like my depression I cannot avoid.
      I am hoping to write more on why the seven deadly sins were said to be deadly…

  2. It seems to me that more and more people these day are guilty of that particular “sin” of despair and depression to some degree.
    You are right that when people say that you should count your blessings it doesn’t make a difference. If I feel don and someone says that to me it often makes it worse because it shows a lack of understanding and I also suspect that it makes those people feel that they have to fix the problem somehow in order to feel good themselves. (Not sure if I am making much sense here!!)

    I never realised that the word sin is a term from Archery, which means I am a “sinner” (I did longbow archery for fun for a little while) and my punishment was a 2 month permanent bruise on my elbow from where the string hit it every time until someone kindly showed me how to slightly adjust my grip. After that I was no longer afraid of letting go of the string and hey I started actually hitting some targets!

    Viv, you are unique and you are the only one of you and I feel privileged to have “nearly” met you.

    • Sin is the nearest term in English when the Bible was first translated into the vernacular from Latin. I am hoping a friend of mine who is a professor of old testament studies will offer some thoughts on its meaning in Hebrew and Aramaic.
      Another of my old friends is an English longbow man, belonging to the main group, the name of which I forget(age or blondeness or simply tiredness) who did once get a group of footballers arrested for playing footie on a sunday. He has a wood somewhere in kent where he shoots when he’s in this country. My only experience with a bow was at The Tales of Robin Hood in Nottingham (where we lived, twice) and I was surprised how good at it I was. Being pants at all sport, it was a nice surprise.
      Anyway, we’ll meet some time this summer, providing I get a London trip that can coincide with your work, and meet at Covent garden for a coffee!

  3. I am pants at sports too and in all honesty I don’t really care. After my bruise subsided I did become ok at archery and actually really enjoyed it.
    Coffee in Covent Garden sounds absolutely wonderful. I will make sure my work will coincide.

    • I did care because my parents were county players at various sports! I spent half my childhood Saturdays hanging round some sports field in the East of England somewhere, hoping for maybe a half orange at halftime or a bit of cake at tea time! I did play hockey for my school, and was fairly good but I had my thumb broken in a match when I was 17/18 and decided enough was enough!
      I’ll let you know my next London trip!

  4. I can remember being depressed, bouts of it always lurking, since I was a child. Back then, I didn’t have a name for it…just knew I wasn’t “normal,” but then I’m not sure being normal is such a good thing.

    Wonderful post.

    • Many thanks, Peaceful Woman.
      Normal, schornormal! God loves wondrous diversity and so created us all different and we, we try to be all the same! mad world!

  5. First off my dear woman, god doesn’t bless or curse. God just is. Remember that even in the bible it states that one finds god within one’s “self.” Jung described this as finding the Self in the self, that sense of oneness with it all. I agree with the idea of sin just meaning one needs more practice.

    Now about this idea of others getting it right, they don’t. If they are “getting it right,” then it means that they haven’t left their comfort zone in order to become even more conscious.

    As much as I hate being depressed, I do know that it usually is a signal which indicates that I am transforming, becoming more aware of my “self.”

    • Oh I quite agree about God cursing or blessing. In some ways, Satre(?) was right and hell is other people. But what I find hard is the fact that for some weird reason, I always tend to think I’m wrong, even when I ought to know I’m right and certain people seem to make this worse. I have a younger friend I try to avoid if I can (I work with him during the summer) because he is utterly convinced that God is favouring him because his life is going so well and he’s getting all the things he wants in life, and he acts accordingly to me(and others) to try and convince us that if we dreadful sinners followed Christ the way he follows Christ, all our troubles would vanish. While I know this is just Soma for the masses, there are plenty of times when it’s tempting to want a total frontal lobotomy so the pain of thinking and becoming aware just goes away. The last visit to the pain clinic(I have a longterm illness that causes some severe physical pain) I managed to get my meds upgraded to something even stronger, and yesterday it was very tempting to medicate away the inner pain. So Far I haven’t dared touch the new meds, partly because the pain is a lot better the last week or so and partly because it scares me that I might use them to escape consciousness.
      I was going to ask you for some book recommendations on Jung; I’m thinking of doing some study, with the OU or somewhere else, on Jungian psychology, to deepen my understanding, and I’d like to have a couple of books to look at before I commit to a course! I’ll email!

      • You have been blessed with the gift of high intelligence! A brilliant skeptic!! So, you question everyone especially yourself, “Self, could I possibly be wrong on this particular matter? I mean this other person does present a sensible viewpoint.” So, one can easily waver from one extreme to the other. Truth is stable, it is our perception that changes. For example, I could never write a book because after a wait of six months for editing, publication, and marketing….I’d no longer still believe 70% of what I wrote. So, truth is fluid as we are always changing and growing and having new experiences.
        Your Christian friend doesn’t seem to have a grasp on Biblical theology. Remember in Old Testament theology, God granted favors to those who were “good boys and girls” and damnation to “bad boys and girls.” And then we get to Job, which awakens us to a truth we had never experienced. We have this man Job who is doing everything right in his life, but experiences tragedy after tragedy. He loses everything. All his friends desert him. Some yelling with such advice as “Job, curse God and die.” We learn it that is true that God has no favorites. We take each moment and within that moment we seek goodness to ourselves and to others. New Testament theology tells us that we are to pray without ceasing. Remember that prayer can be expressed via our creative arts as well.
        Use caution with the pain meds. Very addictive.
        Add humor to life as well. Rain Wilson has a humorous book, The Bassoon King which is easy reading but also has a sprinkling of spirituality as well. And, soulpancakes.com is neat.
        Have a safe journey, my friend.

  6. Ok, just a quickie as I have been called.

    Just to elaborate on archery being ‘an oh so English art’, it isn’t at all, more a British one. If you go further back the argument could tend to lean towards Scandinavian, but that is here nor there.

    The word sin in Spanish (another romantic) means ‘without’, sorta hits the nail on the head when missing with an arrow. 🙂

    • I think modern folks associate it heavily with the longbow awesomeness of Agincourt, to be honest and the accounts of the sky turning black. When a weapon was first developed and who by is always a fraught subject . The Scythian bow and the prowess of the Parthians in shooting backwards on horseback make me suspect that the art is one developed by many societies and styles were claimed uniquely by some. I was thinking also of the skeletons of the men found on the Mary Rose, showing almost deformity of one shoulder because of the muscle build-up caused by archery practice.
      I like what you say about the Spanish; same virtually in French, sans, without.
      thanks for chipping in!

  7. I never knew that about the word ‘sin’ Viv. Great analogy – life and archery – and makes it much clearer to me about that old chestnut of ‘but why would ‘god’ if he is good, do this to me/her/them, which is, I know, a question those in authority in the church and so on have to deal with a lot.

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