Tuesday, May 25, 2010


(Ancient blue green algae; photograph courtesy D. J. Patterson, L. Amaral-Zettler and V. Edgcomb)

Today I received an essay written by a man with whom I am in community at Dykes To Watch Out For and Facebook. He wrote his thoughts in reply to something personal I had shared at FB, and he wanted my okay before he proceeded to publish it. I liked what he said very much, and if/when it is avaiable online, I'll link to it. In the meantime, his thinking sparked my own, and I want to share that below.

Years ago in The Sun I read the essay by Patrick Miller, A Primer on Forgiveness, which eventually became his book on forgiveness. To say it changed my life was an understatement.

I was raised an odd mix of fundamentalist christian and my mama's eclectic spirituality which blended her Wobbly father's worldview with reincarnation and the works of Edgar Cayce. I rejected g*d at 13 and became a born-again lesbian-feminist by 18. Miller's essay hit me at a time when I was still not the "freelance deist" (to paraphrase Karen Montgomery) that I am today, but uncomfortable crevasses in my prior bedrock were appearing on every mental hike.

I was particularly struck by one line of Miller's which said refusing to forgive was asserting that I knew better than g*d, that I was assuming a power and knowledge demonstrably beyond my actual abilities. This made sense to me even at a time when I did not believe in any form of g*d.

I was at that time working in my counseling sessions on the stage in my life, at age four, when I had had a moment of blinding clarity about my family's dysfunction and had decided that I would be the one to save them, individually and collectively. My insight about the problem was dead on. My assumption of my own power was also correct. What was incorrect was the extent of my abilities and resources, and that mistake came very close to killing me before my mother's death at age 28 finally began releasing me from that vow I'd made.

I began considering the idea that who I really needed to forgive was g*d. Or, since I was an atheist, forgive (a) my prior mistaken concept of g*d, (b) my stand-ins for g*d (the universe, collective unconscious, nature), and/or (c) myself as g*d.

Almost immediately, two events help hack out a path for me. One was that I was persuaded to join an acting class by the woman I was currently pursuing, who said the focus of the class would be more on writing than performing, and we could do it together. She lied about both of these (she was a talented liar), and a couple of weeks later I found myself alone in a class full of alarming extroverts, taught by a performer I adored (C.K. McFarland), and being given an assignment to "write a letter to someone about a significant event in our lives which we would then have to act out as a two-minute bit, solo and without props, showing progression through at least four distinct emotions."

My initial impulse was to simply drop the class. However, I woke up one morning with the idea of g*d writing me a letter explaining why she had abandoned me as a child. It was such a good plot line, I had to follow up. It turned into a stunning page. I didn't have a clue about how to "act it out", but somehow dragged my shy ass to the class and volunteered to go first because I was about to hurl from terror. At that point, I had not yet been mentored by either Sharon Bridgforth or Terry Galloway, had not found my voice or a way to handle my fear of public exposure, and when I stood up in front of that cluster of folks -- who had never even seen me converse with any of them -- I was shaking so hard C.K. actually asked me if I was going to pass out.

The only way I could think of to "act" the letter was to rip off all protection and become utterly vulnerable. I made them laugh, cry, and see g*d, as the saying goes. Two minutes later, I was leaned over the nearest chair, sobbing uncontrollably. C.K. called a break, suggested I go wash my face, and after I did, I left the building, never to return.

The second catharsis came when I listened to a tape sent by a friend of the Traveling Jewish Theater performing the revised version of Genesis as envisioned by tikkun olam. This picture of a g*d who was lonely, fallible, and female was a deity I could allow myself to trust and love. And tikkun olam vastly expanded my four-year-old decision to "save my family" into "repairing the world" but eliminated my isolation around it and stopped any clock-ticking. It morphed from a driving goal into a self-loving way of life.

To repair the world requires loving every spark of Shekinah found in each fragment. It means forgiving g*d for trying to end her aloneness by pouring divine essence into frail vessels, a mistake all novices make. If g*d can blow it like that, even the worst of us are off the hook, as long as we try to clean up our messes and keep loving each other.

So, yes, forgiveness becomes a daily choice where new light creeps toward old fetid corners and damage keeps being exposed. There's temporary pain which can be cleaned up before the next mess is revealed. Goethe said "Never hurry, never rest", and I retranslate that "rest" into "be permanently halted by negative emotion". But the cleaning is for my own sake, for my own connection to something way bigger than me, and as long as I always carry my own towel, I'll be in good company.

A company those who reject forgivness keep dying without experiencing.

Below are Miller's Seven Steps of Forgiving. Note how denial and judgment can play no role in this practice.

Select a bitter sorrow, a serious grievance against someone, or a punishing charge against yourself, and review it in complete detail.

Hold in your mind the image of whatever is to be forgiven – yourself, another person, a past event – and say, "I release you from the grip of my sadness, disapproval, or condemnation." Concentrate quietly on this intention.

Imagine for a while what your life will be like without the sorrow or grievance that has been haunting you.

Make amends with someone you’ve hurt or someone who has hurt you; tell a friend about your self-forgiveness; or otherwise link you inner work to your relationships.

Ask for God’s help to overcome fear or resistance at any step. If you do not believe in God, ask for help from all nature, humanity, and the mysteries of your own mind. These are the channels through which aid is sent – and aid is always sent.

Have patience. Forgiveness induces healing which follows its own order and timing. Whether you think you have accomplished anything thus far is less important than the fact that you have attempted a radical act calling forth change beyond your imagining. Go about your daily business, but stay alert to unexpected shifts in your thinking, feelings, and relationships.

Repeat steps 1 – 6 as often as necessary, for life.


Acilius said...

Thanks very much, Maggie. That's a very powerful piece. I'll be mulling over it for quite some time.

Maggie Jochild said...

Folks, Acilius is the man whose original thoughts sparked this particular post of mine. You can see his essay at his blog at Panther Red by clicking on the link below.

Acilius. yeah, this topic still very much occupying my thoughts and commanding my attention. Bless you for the exchange.