I want you to consider what will be the state of this castle, so beautiful and resplendent this Orient pearl, this tree of life, planted in the living waters of life–namely, in God–when the soul falls into a mortal sin. (Teresa of Avila: First Mansions, Chapter Two)
Teresa describes us as a “tree of life, planted in the living waters of life–namely in God”. As a tree of life we bring life to others and renewal to a battered world. Unfortunately we can be derailed by sin when we transplant ourselves into a “pool of pitch-black, evil-smelling water”. This transplant, she says, occurs when a soul falls into “mortal sin”. I am going to adapt Teresa’s terminology of mortal sin to serious sin, addictive sin and viral sin.
- Serious sin: Inflicts significant damage on ourselves and/or others.
- Addictive sin: Takes control and consumes our life.
- Viral sin: Attacks the host and spreads through the “community”.
These types of sin poison relationships, corrupt institutions, and afflict future generations. Drawing from the Sermon on the Mount, here are a few examples of sins or behaviors with a propensity to slip into serious, addictive, or viral sins: anger including explosions, resentment, and self-pity; sins related to sex and sexuality especially when linked to anger, power, and exploitation; communication when twisted into lying, secrets, and deception; religious hypocrisy and legalism; consuming fears; and the censorious judgment of others. Inherently and in execution things like communication, sex, discernment, and even anger are gifts and thrive when planted in the “waters of life”. These same things when planted in polluted waters can become sources of damage.
Teresa notes even the most serious sins do not change us from being a “beautiful and resplendent” castle–with God still at the center. The warning against transplanting ourselves into polluted waters is to help us avoid damaging our opportunity to embrace light and life and then reflect that life and light to others. As “a tree of life” we have tremendous influence. I encourage us to stay healthy trees planted in fresh water.
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