I love that post-red-eye-flight feeling of zoning through a day on too little sleep but lots of enthusiasm. It's like some real life REM, in which one is just too tired to focus on anything but the essentials. It's similar to the way in which any faux "real" emotional crisis can sometimes be ameliorated by a good head cold. Life is too short to worry about emotions, when real things such as bronchial congestion are involved. Today I worked like a dog in some proverb in a Sumerian text about canines with law licenses, too tired to worry, to tired to feel anything but good. I'm so glad that I feel good. I'm so eager for a weekend.
Last night, when taking breaks from knocking off a re-read of Rumpole and the Angel of Death, I pondered the notion of forgiveness. I grew up in a Missionary Baptist town in the heart of the Bible Belt. I was never a Missionary Baptist, and have always been more or less liberal in my faith(s). But I feel I am drenched, and to some extent admiring, of many of the concepts I absorbed as if by osmosis. One Baptist notion current in my little town was the idea that salvation follows a form of "conviction". In this construct, one's life essentially becomes an endless trial, in which one is "tried" and "found wanting". One becomes incredibly conscious of the wrongness of one's life. Evelyn Waugh expresses a similar idea in Brideshead Revisited, when the character Julia speaks of the notion of "living in sin". To paraphrase, she points out that "living in sin" is more than merely living in a sexual relationship without the benefit of wedlock. Instead, she takes the metaphor literally--drinking tea in sin, sleeping in sin, breathing sin, eating sin. In other words, in this notion, sin becomes one's natural state; indeed, in many forms of Christianity, it is post-Edenic man's "natural" state. The idea of God's forgiveness as a form of salvation from sin through the intercession of faith in salvation through Christ is a well-known Christian doctrine.
I'm not particularly interested in debating that old tried and true issue of literal or metaphoric belief in the Christian faith. It's just a bit chic and easy, whatever one's belief structure, to do the "never" or "only" bit about religious beliefs--to either slam the faith or to insist that only this faith is right. I see little point in this post in taking either tack on.
But I do find that notions of forgiveness and sin (error), salvation and grace permeate our culture as if they are part of the bedrock of our vocabulary. One of my favorite college professors, Dr. Bolsterli, once assured me that if I ever left Arkansas, I'd see that not every culture in the US is so Christianocentric as the Bible Belt. Yet, even when I lived in California, I found that these same ideas permeated everything. We are a land of "second chances", secret damnations, and 12 step salvations. Genuine saints and the genuinely mad alike, regardless of belief, have ideas drenched in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. That's not to say that other traditions are not important--the effect of 20th Century skepticism, of Buddhism, and of the new age and new thought faiths is not to be underestimated. But it's hard to escape the notion of "sin" and "forgiveness" in everyday life, or, in my own case, in my own self-view.
Let's leave aside for a moment whether there is literally "sin", or whether there is literally a "divine forgiveness" or whether the constructs are useful or outmoded. These are all crucial questions, but they are not at all what my post is about. To digress, by the way, my answer to each of these crucial questions is often the somewhat elusive "that's a good question, but not the right question". But I don't want to dally with personal witness on my own flawed belief structures, as that won't advance my point much.
Instead, I focus lately on how important it is that we achieve the peace with ourselves that "forgiveness" symbolized in so many of our lives. I do not propose a magic formula. I do not write this post to prescribe, as in Islam, the affirmation of a phrase 3 times, nor the radioevangelist formula of "If ye will jest accept JAYSUS in yer heart". I do not have some chic psycho-babble substitute for forgiveness and self-acceptance. I meet people from a world of traditions who express their faith in a world of spiritual languages who find ways to get around the guilt of personal imperfection.
Instead, I am concerned that we disserve ourselves when we appropriate the language of self-damnation while excluding the possibility of grace. To phrase it in the Buddhist tradition, recognition of the suffering inherent in all living is useless if the consolation of seeking to transcend that suffering is not adopted. To speak in a less "religious" way, we must learn to accept ourselves with something other than derision if we are to function at all.
I have found this an incredible challenge over the years. In some ways, I am very demanding of myself, and in general do not trust "feel good" or "self-esteem"-y ideas. I tend to think that while my relaxed, "flow" moments are wonderful, self-demand and self-discipline are important. But the corollary is that I always fall so short of my goals. I am now able, as all too many self-laudatory LJ posts have demonstrated, to confer on myself some "cheap grace" from time to time. But in general, I trust meaningful living more than I trust pleasure-seeking. The net effect, of course, is that I get down on myself if I fail to accomplish what I need to accomplish. I feel that I have "sinned".
I am pondering tonight how important that idea of "forgiveness" or "self-acceptance" can be. Never mind whether forgiveness is "of God" (and evil "of Satan") or if it is just a cultural more or personal quirk. Let's not deconstruct our values system, as we never see the gestalt by trying to break it into pieces.
I don't have some big conclusion here, nor some Key to All Mythologies. But tonight I realize how important that certain feeling is which I call the feeling of being forgiven. I know that for some, "forgiveness" is not the construct. It is called something else. But that sense that one is all right, that one has a path, and that one can function--that's so important. Perhaps it is that, coupled with the will to "live with it", that is the Kingdom of Heaven they keep singing about--only the Kingdom, as the poet says, is entirely within.