Have I progressed? Am I stood, still, in the dark muddy dirt of my own making? My own deceit? (Ps 36:3)
Sometimes it feels like it. Sometimes it feels that nothing has happened, or rather nothing positive. I have born the demons, and carried the burden for what seems like leagues, and I want to put it down, leave it and allow it to slowly gather fungi in the dank of a dark wood.
But I am forced still to carry it in all weathers, permitted to put it down only for a few minutes, only to retrieve it and carry on with it. Every waking moment, as soon as I think of who I am, I recall the deceit that I have perpetrated and the suffering that I have brought upon those around me. I suffer not for my own struggles and penitence, but for the suffering and struggles that I have created.
Forgiveness: I feel it from others, but I cannot unwrap it and marvel at its contents. I am not sure exactly what it is, but I know it is forgiveness. I see it beneath the Christmas Tree (besides my deceit at the foot of the cross), but I cannot know it fully until I have been freed from the prohibition. I know it is there, but I cannot touch it. And that is the dreadfulness made manifest. A wrapped gift; a gift I cannot touch.
But this time last year, I could only shout and scream that this was how I felt. I couldn’t put it into quite those words, and if I did, I felt a fraud. I felt I was making too much of it all too soon. Not that I didn’t feel these things, but that it felt inappropriate (too soon?) to write them down. I was told repeatedly by those who hold sway that I didn’t know where I’d be, nor what I’d feel like in six months. Well, sixteen months on, and I feel just as I did then: gathered into this place and filled with joy of the Holy Spirit when I wander its streets, speak to its people and seek out its dark places. I felt it then, and I feel it now. But the year has been necessary for me to be able to demonstrate this. Sixteen months on I am no different in my heart, and yet grown in my soul. I could not insist on that last year, since the future past had not yet begun to have happened. It has now, and it has shown that I remain. I remain in agony, feeling forgiven by everyone, but one. And that one is the one who prohibits me from opening my gift.
Over the year I have reflected upon a wide range of themes. Despair, contrition, love penitence, relief, loneliness, guilt, suicide, remorse, disbelief, joy, hope, struggle, suffering, forgiveness. The list continues. Not a single one of these is any more substantial than another, and I turn them over in my head as you turns over a boiled sweet in your mouth.
Currently it is forgiveness, and I’ve started looking at all kinds of thinking and experience of forgiveness, but they all seem to begin from the point of one who has been wronged. I am one who has done wrong, and I don’t quite feel I know what to feel. How does forgiveness arrive when it is sent? That parcel, again: a gift of something beautiful, for sure, but only when opened, and I am unable currently to open anything; and that is because there can be no gift until I am free of the guilt.
All kinds of helpful texts spring up at me when I search for forgiveness (searching in reality and virtually, I search in a little search online window, and I hope for the whole of life to forgive me). But one of the earliest is Gen 18:24-30, as Abraham argues with God to forgive Sodom because of the good people it contains. Just ten. That’s all it requires.
Or as Mr Rogers explains, “The only thing that can conquer evil is forgiveness.”