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Monica’s Wooden Rule

Posted by: David

“In her dream she saw herself standing on a sort of wooden rule, and saw a bright youth approaching her, joyous and smiling at her, while she was grieving and bowed down with sorrow. But when he inquired of her the cause of her sorrow and daily weeping (not to learn from her, but to teach her, as is customary in visions), and when she answered that it was my soul’s doom she was lamenting, he bade her rest content and told her to look and see that where she was there I was also. And when she looked she saw me standing near her on the same rule.” (Confessions, Book III, 9.14).

Saint Augustine writes of a dream his mother Monica had. The dream represents her life and her work on behalf of the spiritual debts and guilt incurred by her son. In the dream, Monica learned from a joyous, bright youth that her prayers for her son were significant in paying for the spiritual debts of her son. Saint Augustine was side-by-side with Monica on the rule well before Saint Augustine devoted his life to Christ.

Guilt and debt are the tightest of bedfellows. We cause others to feel guilt in ways that are not even remotely obvious, yet are clearly destructive to our lives as well as those we cast our guilt towards. We usually pass the guilt out to our most kindred people. In doing so we subconsciously and manipulatively use it as a tool to strengthen bondage, yet ironically it isolates us from them.

Likewise, the debts we charge others not only superficially places us in power over them, but it also impoverishes them financially, spiritually and/or emotionally. It binds us to them and them to us. And no one is greater than the least in a relationship. If part of a whole is impoverished, then the entire whole is impoverished. It doesn’t work the other way around either: the least is not as great as the greatest.

The reason for the impoverished state is that the relationship is in a state of stressful tension. The impoverished segment wants and needs to pull away, yet the debtor calls in the debt that he is owed. It’s self-consuming. It is death for both parties because of the interconnectedness.

It’s also a vicious cycle. As we feel the guilt (the reality of owing), we are required to pay back our loans.  To pay back our loans, it requires us to find our payment from elsewhere, so we manipulatively (consciously or subconsciously) create guilt with others (usually the closest and easiest prey, maybe, say, a spouse) so we can keep paying off our debts. There’s no filing for bankruptcy in the emotional world either. It doesn’t work that way.

We can place people in debt through lending of wealth, status, sex, emotions, trust and even a simple look. This is not only how the power-hungry, charismatic cult-of-personality takes power, but it is also how marriages start and friends form. None of us are innocent of using guilt as a manipulative device.

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.

1 Corinthians 4:4 

Although we may not be innocent, we can have a clear conscious. We do that by releasing our debts and asking for forgiveness. Both must be done in tandem. However, this is a Catch-22. We can’t just release our debts because all of us are connected with the same chains-chains of debt and guilt. I am connected to you and you are connected to me. We’re siphoning to and from each other. I can’t release my chains because I owe someone else. The chains I have attached to you must feed the one that I owe and so on. I’m bound by this web of guilt and debt. It is a law as strong as gravity. It’s impossible to let go of the chains unless we know that our debts have been paid for.

But we can drop our chains in the light of knowing that our debts have been paid. This is what the Cross of Christ is all about. Our chains of guilt have been severed by innocent blood paying the debt in full.

We are free to be free. Now what we need to do is to start severing the chains that bond us through our guilt burden on others—no more glances, no more “you owe me” consciously or subconsciously. We are free to free others. We have the key and the key fits all of our locks, and everyone else’s too. We are free.

We can even release guilt when we are bound to others. In fact, we should do this while bound to others. Many others still need our ‘cash flow’ to pay off their debts. They don’t realize that they are free and so are still paying the loan officer. If they don’t take it from us, they’ll take it from someone else and incur more debt. It’s best to take it from someone who won’t ask for it back, none of it, spiritually, emotionally or physically. When we’re truly free, we have the supply. This is what Monica’s dream meant for Saint Augustine. This is what Jesus means for us.


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