Tuesday, June 19, 2012

confession and absolution

I am sorry for the things I have done.

I am sorry for the things I have left undone.

I am proud of the things I have done.

I am proud of the things I have left undone.

It would surprise me if one or more of these rivulets of thought had not crossed a majority of minds at one time or another. Sometimes with more force, sometimes with less ... but still ... some version.

And to the extent any or all may have whispered and nudged, trumpeted or thrown out its chest, isn't it a pretty good pointer? I think so.

What is the common denominator for these mirror images of sorrow and delight? It's just "I," isn't it? Nothing sexy or profound or refined -- just "I."

And from this assessment, assuming it's true, I think it is fair to infer that some investigation of this "I" is warranted. Buddhism has a pretty good format for such an investigation of despair and delight. In Zen Buddhism, for example, there is the teacher Dogen:

To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to be free from attachment to the body and mind of one's self and of others.
But I am not interested in touting Buddhism here. Buddhism provides a good format for investigating this "I," but since this "I" is wider than any format, since it is more interesting and pervasive than any religion or spiritual overlay, since the human heart comes in so many flavors and with so many differently-stated concerns ... well, flogging Buddhism is not the point. The point is the human heart.

In high school, one of my best friends was brought up Catholic. As high school students, the two of us were as overwhelmed by hormones as any other. We too tried on one persuasion or another in that vast teen-aged struggle to become adult and powerful and assured.

Bill and I were part of the 'downtown crowd,' a group that hung around in Greenwich Village in New York, a group that was impressed with the Beat Generation writers and poets with their go-to-hell iconoclasms. The rest of our high school class qualified as the 'uptown crowd' -- those who lived in snazzier places like Park Avenue and were dutifully conformist ... at least in our eyes. We wore black jeans and black T-shirts in our hours away from the classroom (where everyone wore a tie and jacket). We were kool ... or anyway we worked pretty hard at it. In our world, where Kerouac and Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti were enshrined and adored, religion was a snare and a delusion -- the kind of conformity worthy of the uptown crowd ... the sissies and sycophants and anyone else who was not as kool as we were.

And yet one day, Bill and I were hanging out in his minuscule bedroom talking about this and that and he told me that he had stopped going to church. I didn't ask how that sat with his Catholic parents, but I did imagine there must have been some heart-felt and perhaps heated discussions about it. I sensed in Bill's admission that we were in a serious realm -- a realm way beyond kool, a realm where there were real wounds and not just judgmental or philosophical ones. I don't remember all the particulars of the conversation, but I do remember asking him gently if there was anything he missed about the church he had decided to leave. And Bill's face went soft and open and tender ... nothing kool or assured ... just an open heart.

"Yes," he said. "I miss confession."

And I ached for my friend. Never mind if it were true in any church-y sense, still, if someone honestly believed that he could bare his inmost errors and then be absolved ... Jesus! Who wouldn't take some of that? To have the weight lifted, to feel it slip away like woodsmoke rising from a campfire. Living as I was with an alcoholic mother, living as I was in the throes of the wracking uncertainty that is a teenager's lot, how could I not wish to be forgiven, to be washed clean, to be relieved and feel relief. I ached for my friend because I ached for myself, I suppose.

"I miss confession."

And more concretely, I miss absolution. I miss a place of lightness and light, a place I longed for and wished for and was somehow certain (though I was never entirely sure why or how) existed. To be fresh as a daisy in the summer sun, free and dancing in the warm breezes ... with no backward glances. Jeeeeesus!

Experience in life teaches lessons that may or may not be learned -- that, for example, there are no ornately-decorated closets into which anyone might step and receive an absolution from an authoritative and disembodied voice. No man or god can offer an adequate absolution to anyone who is honest. This is not a criticism. It is just experience. Somehow, assuming anyone ingests the lessons of this life, there needs to be an absolution within ... and it goes miles beyond the absolutions of the kool, the forgiveness of the proud or the desolations of the uncertain. Smug religions may harness this longing for their own purposes, but that manipulation or 'kindness' does not mean the longing is any less keen or compelling.

What then? What choice is there but to set out with purposeful stride to realize and actualize what once was little more than wishful thinking. Pick a road, any road, and then follow it. Keep and eye skinned for the potholes, but do not be dissuaded by some trip or fall, cut or bruise. Follow the 'I' road, the heart road, the road that both beckons and recedes. Confess and confess and confess some more, irrespective of absolution. Find the space in which the need to puff out the chest or dissolve in tears is superfluous.

Who am I?

For once and for sure -- who am I?

Cough it up! Quit being kool or confounded ... just cough it up!

Ain't that a daisy-cutter?!

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