Why not start the custom we call the New Year being forgiven—free of any trace of the wounds and limitations we are all trailing due to the lives we have led? We can start very small. Sitting quietly at a quiet time or place, we can practice saying “forgiven” like a mantra or prayer. We can do this when a memory of old bad behavior or harsh speech arises, or when we are gripped by the vague, uneasy sense that we are, well, painfully limited, controlled by our conditioning. This can feel like emerging from a dark cave or prison cell into a bright light, opening up to be healed and uplifted by a greater, wiser, infinitely more merciful consciousness.
Throughout the ages, many people have called this greater consciousness God. But you don’t need to worry about this to practice saying or thinking “forgiven,” to practice recognizing and accepting your humanity. The act of opening up to something greater than your own conditioning, your own extreme limitation, does not depend on belief or views of any kind.
In the current Parabola (I admit I harbor the hope that you read Parabola, and tell your friends to read it), we explore the theory that the brain is not the sole creator of consciousness. Instead of being a virtual reality machine (in addition to a capable housekeeper) it may be a receiver capable of receiving a frequency beyond the boring reality show featuring each of us as the center of our known universe. In my book this interesting theory boils down to old sacred wine in a shiny secular bottle: there is a greater light of consciousness above us and around us and maybe even in us, if we open to receive it. To receive it, even for a moment, is to be forgiven.
Not surprisingly, the word “forgive” comes from a word that means to give. To forgive a debt is like giving solvency to another—absolving them, pulling them out of debtor’s prison and back into the light of the living. We can practice tuning into a frequency outside the prison of the self. We can practice saying “forgiven.”
Months after the death of his beloved wife Joy, C.S. Lewis had a vivid sense of her as he took his morning bath. Up until then, he seemed always to be thinking of her absence, of the vast hole her absence left in the world. Real, living people have a presence that is greater than what we can see and name. Changeable and elusive, it slips right through the net of memory. Lewis realized that if we are to be as fully alive and fully ourselves as God (or, if you prefer, that greater outside consciousness or finer frequency) we have to let go of our attachment to our cramped and dark little thoughts and images and “stretch out the arms and hands of love” to the mystery of the unknown. Practicing forgiveness, asking and granting forgiveness is practicing stretching out the arms and hands of love.
Like many men of his generation, my father was a veteran of World War II. At the conclusion of his funeral a few days ago, an honor guard fired a twenty-one gun salute. This ritual came from the custom of ships firing off all their guns to show that they came in peace. With no time to reload before they were in range of the shore, the ship was voluntarily defenseless. To ask for and offer forgiveness is to put down arms, daring to show ourselves as we are without defenses. This New Year, may we all dare to put down our guns–to take off all our armor, even the subtle forms. May we all sail into the New Year disarmed, stretching out the arms and hands of love to the unknown.