A stirring second excerpt from Mary Gaitskill’s essay “Revelation”, this part comes toward the end, where she talks about how her approach to the last book of the Bible has evolved since her initial conversion:

dragon-sun-womanWhen I look at Revelation now, it still seems frightening and impenetrable, and it still suggests a fearful, inexorable order that is unknowable by us, in which our earthly concerns matter very little. However, it no longer reads to me like a chronicle of arbitrarily inflicted cruelty. It reads like a terrible abstract of how we violate ourselves and others and thus bring down endless suffering on earth. When I read “And they blasphemed God of heaven because of their pain and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds,” I think of myself and dozens of other people I’ve known or know who blaspheme life itself by failing to have the courage to be honest and kind. And how we then rage around and lash out because we hurt. When I read “fornication,” I no longer read it as a description of sex outside marriage: I read it as sex done in a state of psychic disintegration, with no awareness of one’s self or one’s partner, let along any sense of honor or even real playfulness. I still don’t know what to make of the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, among other things, but I’m now inclined to read it as a writer’s primitive attempt to give form to his moral urgency, to create a structure that could contain and give ballast to the most desperate human confusion.

In the past, my compassion felt inadequate in the face of Revelation because my compassion was small–perhaps immature is a better word–and conditional. I could not accept what I read there because it did not fit my idea of how life should be, even though I could feel the truth of it in my psyche. Now I recognize, with pain, a genuine description of how hellish life can be, and how even God can’t help us because we won’t allow it. Paradoxically, I find that the more you accept the pain and fear inherent in human experience, the greater your compassion can become, until finally it is no longer merely your compassion but a small part of the greater love epitomized in the Bible as Jesus.