Unthinkable, Unearned Forgiveness

I was asked to ask for forgiveness. I did. And was forgiven.

Duo Dickinson / 1.12.22

Growing up, communion was only had on the first Sunday of the month. No one crossed themselves, ever. There was not a whiff of incense to be had, anywhere. I am, by birth and predilection, a very “Low” Episcopalian. Things have changed in my church over the years and I am now a dinosaur in a rich and interwoven faith. I still find no solace in icons and rituals, but I love, inordinately, the old words Thomas Cranmer wrote in the old prayer book. On most weeks we would, in unison, upfront, and down on our knees recite:

 We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.

Fifty years later, Mockingbird asked me to contribute to its magazine’s “Age Issue” (naturally) in the anonymous “Confession” feature. I simply noted that I was, in fact, a “miserable offender” with “no health in me” for the first time in forty-two years, and that I am still not great at saying much more than “sorry”.

But I did have a request in my confession.

Like many, my youth damaged me and my siblings. I confessed in the piece that I never forgave my long dead parents for being broken people who could not know what they were doing to their children. I have no defense for my inability to forgive beyond the reflexive pain for my lack of forgiveness, and I said to God in the article:

If it was just damage, I could adapt and dismiss. If these memories were like a pull or a cramp that screams pain, I could walk it off. I can play through pain. That is why I am contacting you. The pain still hurts. Could you somehow turn off the switch and just let me forgive them? Forgive myself.

In the piece, I asked God to end my memories that well up in waking hours, but more, abide in my dreams, virtually every night that I can remember them. Beyond the Academic Terror or discovering that I am naked, the unrelenting terror of daily nightmares, where I am fully faulty and failing, could simply wreck the beginning of dawn.

In a confession, I admitted my incapacity to live what Jesus asks, I asked God to forgive my parents, and I cited His humanity:

Maybe You can forgive them. When You were on the cross you had to ask God to forgive those who fully betrayed You. Some realities are not for anyone to forgive, here, now. So, it’s up to you … Oh, you already have … While you are at it, forgive me?

I was happy holding the magazine in my hands, just like every over time my creations have seen the light of day. Many others expressed that they liked the piece, too.

But something else happened too. It’s been over a month since my words appeared on paper and the night terrors of my full insufficiency have, for the first time in my memory, disappeared.

After decades of anger, depression, but most often confusion at the persistence of those nightmares, they have miraculously vanished from my daily routine. I’ve been thinking, talking or writing about the traumas of my childhood since my mother passed over twenty years ago. And more so when my sibling committed suicide over four years ago. I have been fully open and expressive of the truth of being in a bad place, and the complexities that were understood, but unrelenting. In this world.

I am loath to ask God for anything. Ever. Especially for me. Prayer is muttered hope, or remorse, but never, ever, thoughtfully understood, articulately expressed, or considered. Until an editor asked me to.

We live in this world, now. Our days are spent in transaction, efforting every devotion in rationalized mechanisms — often grim, sometimes ecstatic. We soldier on, accepting limits and working hard to overcome them. Of course we feel entitled to “fairness”, “justice”, reasonable outcomes, despite our motivations.

But we, I, seldom give up this overwhelming, human mantle of mechanisms, methods, and this world’s unrelenting demands. But somehow,, a request by an editor elicited a careful, rational effort that resulted in an irrational gift of grace. The irony is not lost on me. I cannot justify, intellectually understand, or simply deny the supernatural truth that is before me. My night terrors have ended for the first time in fifty years. The moment my hope was made real, offered up to God, my hope was given to me.

God forgave me.

I will never think that a nice piece of art is a God-anointed Icon, or that the eucharist is effectively the body and blood of Our Lord and Savior, but despite my “low” sensibilities, something happened to me a month ago that I did not control. My atheist friends will say that my body reached a place where my brain chemistry or architecture changed to end the cycle of night terrors that lasted since I was adolescent. And they are right. God made those things that changed, not me, or them.

I sometimes think that Jesus had night terrors. Jesus was exiled to Egypt as a boy, and he was at Joseph’s deathbed — brutal truths.  When he was betrayed he knew enough to ask God to do what he knew he could not. Humanity is not profane, but each of us are. We are not punished for being human, because Jesus is human.

I could not forgive my parents, or myself for that inability. I was asked to ask for forgiveness. I did. And was forgiven. There is no understanding beyond faith. And gratitude.

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