Monday, February 10, 2014

Everybody Wanders in the Forest

People. My brothers and sisters. Can we put the wilderness analogy to rest? Or at least stop casting it in such a negative light?

It's long been a standard in Christian circles that we oft refer to those we deem as having strayed from the path as "in the wilderness." We speak of them with pity; sometimes, to be fair, with of a genuine and heartfelt concern for their spiritual well-being. Yet the problem comes when those who are on the outside of said spiritual woods set themselves on a higher plateau than those who are wandering.

Not all who wander are lost. Or so I read.

As one who has at one time or another spent an enormous time in the wilderness, let me tell you: it was ultimately a good place.

I'm not saying every choice made while in the wild was beneficial to me. I'm not advocating that people should take an intentional spiritual walkabout from their faith in order to "find themselves." And I'm not saying that the wilderness is a place for prolonged lingering.

And yet.

We shun and fear the wilderness, even though that's where things grow. The wilderness is where we can wrestle with our faith. Often we can't do so in the nice, neat confines of our constructed (and constricted) parameters of worship for fear of knocking something over. Idols we have created need to be knocked over, but we need to be cognizant of the unintentional collateral damage we might inflict.

The wilderness is where we can shout. We can articulate the questions that hound us, the struggles we endure. We can speak openly, unafraid of unintentionally disturbing someone. Not that maintaining a status quo is to be given priority, but the volume with which we speak may be a hindrance to others not on this journey.

The wilderness is where we find each other. If we stop raising our hands, heads, and voices, shouting to the sky, long enough to turn our thoughts to our surroundings, we may find markings of those who have blazed a similar trail. We may discover others walking a parallel path as we head towards a shared destination. We may ultimately find someone who has already made it through the woods and can help to guide us. And where two or more are gathered...

The wilderness is where we find ourselves. And God.

The wilderness is where John the Baptist was, declaring a message of hope. The wilderness is where Jesus went to be baptized. And despite how we focus on how Jesus was in the wilderness to be tempted, we leave out that the wilderness was also where He was ministered to by the angels.

And if you're trying to get to the mountain, many times you have to hike through the wilderness to get there.

Everybody drinks the water from the murky pool
Surely as you think you're well
You know your belly aches
Everybody learns religion at the blind man's school
Will you reach for heaven
When the preacher charms the snake

Is your faith so right
Are you so blessed
Everybody wanders in the forest
Is your heart so true

Count the butts and bottles
In the morning when we're gone
Fools agree reality is more than we should bear
How do you gaze into the sun from dusk to dawn
We love the truth enough to die but we won't swear

Is your faith so right
Are you so blessed
Everybody wanders in the forest
Is your heart so true
Are you so good
Everybody wanders in the woods

Everybody begs the juror be more than merciful
For the crime we celebrate, for bigotry we learn
Everybody drinks the water from the murky pool
Surely as it heals your soul you feel your body burn

Is your faith so right
Are you so blessed
Everybody wanders in the forest
Is your heart so true
Are you that good
Everybody wanders in the woods
Everybody wanders in the forest
Everybody wanders in the wilderness

(Lyrics by the choir. From the album SPECKLED BIRD.)

Monday, February 03, 2014

Staring Grace in the Face

I'm weird when it comes to forgiveness.

For the most part, when a friend offends or slights me - intentionally or otherwise - I tend to let it go. Within reason, that is; if we're talking about a case where it would be unhealthy for my relationship to continue with them, I - begrudgingly - will allow said relationship to fade out, bearing them no ill will. But I will forgive them all the same.

And believe you me: I have been dealt some soul-searing wounds from words and actions against me by people who claimed to love me.

It's not easy, and the human instinct is to chalk yet another tic mark on the internal tally of "who screwed me over this time," all the while making note of whom to trust just a little bit less the next time we're together.

The paradox I struggle with comes when I consider this grace of forgiveness as a person of faith. On one level, when confronted with the depth of forgiveness from the Divine and what has been forgiven of me, it makes things that much easier to look at someone and forgive them. It seems natural to let water flow under a bridge of forgiveness between two friends like so much blood that erases my own mistakes in His eyes.

Yet while I am willing to forgive others who have hurt me, it is exceptionally difficult - almost impossible on some levels - for me to look others in the eye whom I have slighted and not feel embarrassment, regret, shame, and a sense of never being able to make it up to them, no matter how much they may say I am forgiven.

And believe you me: I have done and said some stupid, stupid shit in my lifetime.

The thing is, I know. I know deep down inside that some of my friends truly exhibit the ability to "forgive and forget" when I screw up (as was succinctly stated by a dear brother: "Rubbish. We've all been there."). I know deep down inside that there is no tally held, no albatross around my neck, no scarlet letter brandished upon me when they look at me or interact with me. And I firmly believe deep down inside that in Paradise, that whole "the past is gone" thing is one of the very reasons we're going to enjoy eternity so much.

I feel like I have to perform some manner of penance to make up with them and make things right between us. My internal critic repeatedly reminds me that "I owe them," and I burden myself unnecessarily with a cross of shame and pain that I feel I have to carry. No Simon of Cyrene to come to my rescue to assist me with this; and I wind up using this cross not as an eventual bridge between us but as a fencepost I set up to keep them out and away.

I have an issue with looking upon myself with the same eyes of forgiveness that I look upon others with. I can look at someone who has done me wrong and genuinely forgive in love, but I scarcely have that same courage to look at myself in the mirror and think I am forgiven by others, to say nothing of being able to say those same words of grace to myself.

But I try, and I'm going to keep on trying. Mainly because the alternative is that I live as a hypocrite. If I am unwilling to trust and believe that friends can and do forgive me, how can I expect for them to believe that I can and do forgive them? Additionally, this guilt and shame I carry many times weighs me down to the point of breaking. Breaking away from those who I know are my friends and would not want me to be out of their lives.

So.

If I have recently or in the distant past done or said something to offend you, embarrass you, disappoint you, or otherwise slight you - consider this my public apology.

I'm sorry.

If I have made an ass of myself, if I have let you down, if I have done you wrong - consider this my public apology.

I'm sorry.

I'm going to try and make eye contact with you the next time we meet. I'm going to try and believe that we're okay. I'm going to try and extend to you the same grace you have extended to me. I'm going to try and extend that grace to myself that I am both worthy of your friendship, and that I'm not the schmuck I think I see when I look in the mirror.

I have just enough lines under my eyes that I would prefer them to get deeper through memories and experiences while smiling and laughing with you and not for them to become a repository for tears of regret and pain as I self-isolate from you and allow the past to hinder our future.

Olive branch extended. With a slight blush.