Thursday, 11 August 2016

On coyotes, St Augustine and forgiveness

(with random pics by Paul)

It was a bit past midnight. I'd been hanging out in the relative cool of the basement, at my desk, reading Matthew Wood's take on herbal treatments for the muscular/skeletal system. Fascinating. My mind traced back and forth between the green world and our insides, the affinities and sympathies between all things in Creation. Nature uses the same structures over and over, as though she doesn't differentiate between life forms; plant, animal, fungi, bacteria, soil - we're all made of the same stuff. "All" we have to do, it seems, is understand whether to strengthen a system/function that lacks energy or to calm an overactive one. Simple enough, but not easy.

Once I realized that I was just staring at the screen, deep in thought, no longer reading, it was time to close 'er down, get away from the hum & glow. I do, literally, thank God for the internet when I find such jewels, but my eyes would still prefer books.

I went outside and just stood there on the back porch. It was still hot. A haze thickened the sky that only a few stars pricked through. One shooting star, then a second. Bats flitted among the tree-shapes.

When I've been at the screen for hours, no matter how delicious the learning is it takes a while for me to come back to life. At first I feel as though I am still staring at a screen, as though the living, breathing world is just a picture.

And then I heard the coyotes. What fun they were having! Yippy kiy-yi-YAY! It was a party, for sure, their crazy calls sounded like laughter and downright contagious laughter, too. You know how when you hear a neighbour having a real belly laugh and you can't help but smile, no matter that you don't know the joke? Like that. I chuckled, and then chuckled again at myself for chuckling.

And then I heard the other coyotes. A-ooooOOO, kinda wolf-like. They were far, far away, on the island I guess, but sound travels easily over water in the still of the night. The first pack went quiet, I could almost see their ears prick up. Came again from the island, A-ooooOOO, "hello there, we hear you!" and the first pack, closer now, yipped and carried on ..

The sky over my head seemed to get bigger. The tree-shapes got darker. For a moment the primal took hold and I felt like an interloper in a world of wild things. If Nature wanted me gone it wouldn't take much. Those coyotes could be in my yard in a flash, teeth snapping, laughing .. while they tore me to shreds. It's unlikely, but I stayed on the porch near the door anyway. As much as their calls bring me back to life they make the back of my neck prickle, too.

We need to understand how small we are. It's important to understand that we are here by Grace, and Grace alone.

I climbed into bed with my copy of the Confessions of St. Augustine. No doubt he knew that prickle on the back of the neck, there were wild things 'out there' even more so in his time than ours. Don't think for a moment, please, that my love for the wild means I romantically believe it safe. I often speak of my love for bears but I do not, ever, want to meet one on the trail.

I'm just at the beginning of the book, and St Augustine is (perhaps a little wryly) relating stories of his boyhood. He relates how he was beaten for preferring games over the lessons of the school master, but that those lessons were only being taught so that he could win at the games adults play. Commerce, politics. (Nothing much has changed, then!).

What has changed is that he is addressing the Lord. Directly. How often does that happen now? Where, even in literature, do we even confess His existence, let alone presume to address Him? Who among us thinks to tell Him our stories, to lay open our lives before Him, warts and all? To ask, as Augustine does, for forgiveness for the sins of our childhoods?? That last, especially, is unthinkable now.  In this age we cast our childhood selves purely as victims of circumstance or cruelty, it would be rare indeed for any of us to look back - or inward - to the children we were - and still are - and take any measure of responsibility for our misdeeds.

It's an interesting concept, and new to me, this manner of confession. Of course we can never confess to God anything He doesn't already know. The point is we look at ourselves as humbly as we can. This isn't self flagellation that I'm seeing in his writing (although admittedly I'm still in the first pages). He isn't beating himself up as we do now, no self hatred here; it's frank self examination.

And forgiveness.

St Augustine understands that he will be forgiven because that is God's nature, but also that he must ask for that forgiveness. I'm not sure I can come up with the words to express this because to some ears it all makes the Lord sound a bit petty .. but that's not it. He doesn't require us to ask His forgiveness because He's stingy, but because He knows that the change that comes from being forgiven can only occur if He has our whole heart. He wants us wide open to accept that forgiveness, fully and completely.

So forgiveness, then, becomes transformative.

Maybe we have trouble with forgiving ourselves because we don't yet have that capacity to accept the Lord's forgiveness. If we did, we could move on. We would be changed. But instead our shrinks and our preachers and our best friends offer us face-value forgiveness, the kind that makes it okay to keep on being jerks and ass-hats, maybe in slightly different ways, but jerks and ass-hats nevertheless. We use being "fallen" as an excuse. "I'm only human" we say as we succumb to the 'guilty pleasure' or tell the white lie.

Perfection, of course, isn't possible. Striving for it is a sin in itself, a form of pride. But so is the "oh that's good enough" shrug .. somewhere in the middle there's a sweet spot that I'm looking for.

Crows like apples, who knew?


  1. Lovely. Lovely imagery, lovely thoughts. Provoking as well. Facing who we are and have been, hoping for who we could be/should be. Laying it all out before Him. Taking Him all in through tears of gratitude and humility. Our Father, our God, our Lord!

    1. We all want to be able to tell our stories to someone who will listen. Who will 'get' what we're saying. When we speak directly to the Lord there's this little nudge to speak from the heart and all manner of bits and pieces come through that we might not have thought of before.

      It's astonishing, this relationship with God-as-a-Person.

    2. Yeah........ (:-) Very astonishing.

  2. I hope you enjoy St. Augustine! I'd like to read some works like that one day.

    1. "One day" those girls of yours will be old enough to understand that when Mama has her nose in a book it is best to leave her be. That day will come sooner than you think, I promise.

  3. Oh, I needed those words SO bad today. I have been thinking all day about how I always have at least three people around me, hugging me, loving me. (Which is a wonderful problem, except I'm a cat---and needing some aloof time.) I'm not so good at taking time for myself, and that's something my body has definitely been trying to tell me. Yet the kids are so precious. Such wonderful beings. So I'll take your promise that it'll come sooner than I think. Thanks!