This is Canon Victoria’s letter in our weekly Parish News email. To sign up for our newsletter, please visit: Constant Contact. To see the full weekly Parish News email from Feb 24th, please visit: http://conta.cc/2mtLa4E
In my twenties, I was invited to join a secret society. It sounded mystical and then, when I read more about it, silly. I decided that I was smarter than that. Yet, over the years, I have succumbed more than once to someone saying to me “Well, it is really quite secret, but, I think you should know…”
Next, the secret teller took me aside and dished; the grave and top-secret matter proved gossip, dressed in better clothes. I have sinned in the same way. Occasionally there are good reasons to keep secrets, of course, such as the protection of another person’s reputation or privacy, or to protect the innocent against evil. If Ann Frank is in your house, mum is the word!
Still secret keeping tends to danger and divisions. The telling of secrets can damage people’s lives. So can the manufacturing of secrets. Secrets give us power over other people: “I know a secret, and you don’t know it!” begins on the playground, but, grown up, socialized and in stockings, it can be dangerous. Read any classic Southern novel. To be in the know is to have power and access and ‘friendships’ that may prove useful. (There the slippery slope begins: we turn to using others, willing in the end to betray our former friends or see them as pawns in our game of thrones.)
I looked for secrets in the Scriptures. There is scant patience for secrets. Unlike other religious traditions, neither in Israel nor the church are there secret rites. Every in Israel knew what the High Priest of Israel did on the Day of Atonement in the Holy of Holies. The rite was all laid out in the Scriptures. Access to the Temple was limited for reasons of purity, not secrecy. All may come and see the Eucharist. We have no hidden codes, no secret handshakes.
In the Gospels, Jesus says, “Nothing is hidden that shall not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that shall not be made known and come to light.” When he is brought in secret before the Sanhedrin and asked about his teaching, he answers, “I have spoke openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the Temple where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.” Even when he ordered his disciples to not use the word “Messiah”, it was not because he was creating a circle of the chosen, but because the word had political implications that were not his agenda. Indeed, the only time that Jesus tells us to do something in secret is when we give our money away—for the reason that we are to not seek the world’s approval, but God’s. The only secret that God made known in Christ is the extent of how much God loves us. That secret Christians are to shout from the housetops.
Thank you, Canon V, for this essay. You gave us something “meaty” as well as satisfying to “chew on” in these unsetttling days of fake news and alternative facts. I agree that secrets can drive wedges between people and, even worse, when secrets fester into guilt and shame without repentance, between us and God. Still, I carefully distinguish between secrets and privacy. I am careful not to press too far into family members’, friends’, and acquaintances’ private psychological spaces unless they invite me. Likewise, I have no problem simply declining to share my own private landscapes with others, if they are not the right person and/or it is not the right time. People sometimes look at me strangely, but I have learned over the years that I am not obligated to satisfy another’s curiosity, simply because they have asked a bold personal question. In that same context, though, there is nothing wrong with posing such a question if it’s honest, sincere, and rooted in a desire to explore or strengthen a relationship with that other person. In fact, the question which doesn’t receive an immediate answer may be the seed that blooms into a deeper conversation and relationship at a later time. Some of the most “open” and interesting people in my life have also been some of the most private. I respect their rights to choose when and how they will reveal their more intimate thoughts and experiences — sometimes even “secrets” — to others, including me. And I cherish those others who lovingly allow me that same precious gift of choice.
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