In the midst of this Christian extravaganza, standing beneath the red and green blinking lights, and surrounded by the sound of Jesus followers singing hymns and secular Christmas classics, I’m rediscovering the act of forgiveness.
I didn’t expect forgiveness to be a theme of this brief caroling experience. I thought my time singing Christmas songs might offer me more chances to make theological comparisons; a kind of anthropological experiment, if you will. I, the Pagan and Druid-in-training, would stand before the Christians and make a beautiful noise, using their myths and traditions as source material, and in doing so I might walk away with a keener understanding into how we are different.
Instead, I’m discovering that forgiveness, a word that many of us associate with the Christian doctrine of “the forgiveness of sin” (a concept most all of my readers reject), is being offered to me as an early Christmas gift.
Forgiveness, it turns out, is mine to experience because it is mine to offer to others.
See, I’m a person who gets burned rather easily. When someone hurts me, I retreat (sometimes geographically) and I rarely look back. When we’re done, we’re done. That’s been my approach to relationships for most of my adult life.
This has been true in personal and professional relationships, with family, and even with religion. I left the Church, and that was it. No more Jesus talk. No more redemption, salvation, forgiveness — any of that. I lumped all of those words and ideas into one big, Christian box and stored it away in the dusty-attic recesses of my mind. I had no intention of exploring how these themes were still present in my life. They were Christian, so I didn’t want to think about them.
We’ve touched on salvation as a concept that can exist outside of the Christian paradigm, and I believe there’s still more to be explored in that conversation. But for now, it appears that forgiveness is the theme of the moment. Set aside the belief that humanity must seek forgiveness from God, and there can still be a way for us to approach this utterly human, utterly necessary act.
We don’t forgive, or seek forgiveness because to not do so would result in our eternal damnation. Forgiveness isn’t a Divine mandate.
We seek to forgive others and be forgiven because it allows for us to continue to write the story of our life. Forgiveness restores a sense of continuity between the past and the present; a continuity which is broken by our own resentfulness and heartache.
Forgiveness belongs to all of us, and is not wrapped up in any one, religious tradition. The Christians talk a lot about forgiveness because it plays a large role in their understanding of Jesus, of God, and of their beliefs regarding humanity’s role in a “Divine plan.” I’m not taking issue with that here. There’s no need to. If a Christian processes forgiveness through that lens, it does me no direct harm. They’ll learn the lessons they need to learn.
But for me, I’m seeing forgiveness more like an essential component of our human life which transcends the myths we hold up as sacred, and even the identities we work so diligently to construct and defend.
By embracing Christmas as I described in my last post, I am discovering that I’ve become resentful and defensive about other people finding joy in the Christmas holiday. I’ve felt spurned by the sleigh bells, put off by the tinsel and the incessant jolliness. There was something false in it, I was certain. Christmas was, after all, just a Pagan holiday in disguise. How dare people enjoy something that wasn’t, in fact, what they were claiming it to be.
But what did I gain from that experience?
Not much, really. The feeling of being spurned, perhaps?
I never passed the “true Christian” test that some Christians subject other Christians to, because I was never willing to accept wholeheartedly the belief that there was only one way to the Divine. Some might suggest that I don’t pass the “true Pagan” test because I still believe that Christianity, and the other monotheistic faiths, can be very effective at providing people with a rich spiritual life and deep connection to the Great Mystery.
Tests are silly. I didn’t care for them in grade school, and I still don’t know. You can test a kid from 7AM to 3PM every day of the week, and still not get a real sense of what she knows. Marking the right boxes is very different than having a deep knowledge of the world you live in.
I’m more of an in-the-world learner.
So, in the same way, I don’t need to pass anyone’s religious test to determine what I am. I am complicated, and textured. In my voice you’ll hear remnants of my old Christianity; out of practice, but not completely forgotten. You’ll also hear me rediscovering the enchanted world, which is a direct result of my opening up to Druidry, and to the Pagan community. It’s all here; all a part of the whole.
I embrace forgiveness and, in the process of doing so, calling back to myself each of my disparate parts, each of my forgotten persons. Those things which seemed disharmonious are each forgiven, each accepted as holy mixtures of the beautiful and the ugly.
I forgive both, and in the moment of my forgiveness I encounter the most unexpected sensation of love, and of being loved.