Quaker Practice

Sin and the Arrow

When I was in college, I had the great fortune to take a class on the Old Testament from a rabbi. It gave me a different perspective on these texts that I had been raised with and on life in general.

One thing that really stayed with me was his explanation of sin. He told us that in Hebrew, the word “sin” comes from archery, where it means “missing the mark.” I like that much better – it implies that our mistakes are not heavy, hopelessly immutable objects, but can teach us where we need to improve our aim, focus, and strength so that in time we may hit a bulls-eye, or at least the target.

If you’ve ever tried archery, you know that at first, there is little consistency. The arrow may hit the target, but more likely, we undershoot, overshoot, or the arrow goes wildly to the left or right, hopefully not hurting anyone in the process. And sometimes as we release the string, it will smack us on the arm or even the cheek. There are things we can do to improve our aim; for example, stand closer to the target, use the right weight bow, and be mindful of what we are doing. But what makes the most difference is practice – not giving up just because we only hit the hay bale once that day. If we persevere, our results become more consistent and increasingly close to the mark.

For me, this is one of the key differences between “sin” and “missing the mark.” The surest way not to repeat a sin is to avoid that action again and stay as far away as possible from the situation that caused it. “Missing the mark,” instead, suggests that we learn what we can from the mistake, put it behind us, and if appropriate, be prepared to try again in the future.

In order to improve, we have to be honest with ourselves. Sure, there are things outside our control that can cause an arrow to go off course – an errant gust of wind, for example. But we have to recognize that the most likely cause was the archer, not the equipment or the environment. To make progress, we need to assess what happened, where we went wrong. Was our stance correct? How was our technique? Were we focused? And if it does turn out that our form was good, but something out of our control occurred, what could we have done to anticipate or circumvent that problem?

The Japanese martial art Kyudo, the Way of the Bow, sees archery as a deep, almost mystical practice, teaching calm, patience, focus, gracefulness, and respect. The goal is to be mindful as you go through the steps to release the arrow.  And once the arrow has been launched, you are not finished yet – there is a last step of being present until the flight of the arrow ends. The archers hold their position and attempt to send their spirit out, even after the arrow has hit. Immersion in the task is meditation through action. Master archers concentrate so purely that they exude an aura of serenity. Most of us don’t have the purity of mind it takes to do this perfectly, but all we are responsible for is to set up the shot and perform the steps from our center and in the Light. Kyudo teaches that if an arrow is launched in truth, goodness, and beauty, it will hit its mark.

Edie Uber, RFM Blog Contributor

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.