I spent part of this morning taking a kind of personal inventory that often accompanies the beginning of a new calendar year. As is often the case, there was much to be grateful for and much that brought only sighing and sorrow. Progress—moral, character, spiritual, or otherwise—comes hard, it seems.
As I was thinking and praying on these things, I came across this quote from Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic that made my jaw drop and my soul heave with grief and gratitude. He’s talking about being seen—truly seen—by the living God. About being known as we are and loved even still.
On one level I can feel that this is absolutely safe. A parent’s safe hold is nothing compared to this. I’m being carried on the universe’s shoulder. But on another level, it’s terrifying. Being screened off by my separateness is all I know in my dealings with somebodies who look like me. This is utterly exposed. And while it may be safe, it is not in one of the primary ways in which human beings set about being kind to each other.
It takes no account, at all, of my illusions about myself. It lays me out, roofless, wall-less, worse than naked. It knows where my kindness comes chequered with secret cruelties or mockeries. It knows where my love comes with reservations. It knows where I hate, and fear, and despise. It knows what I indulge in. It knows what parasitic colonies of habit I have allowed to form in me. It knows the best of me, which may well be not what I am proud of, and the worst of me, which is not what it has occurred to me to be ashamed of. It knows what I have forgotten.
It knows all this, and it shines at me. In fact, it never stops shining. It is continuous, this attention it pays. I cannot make it turn away. But I can turn from it, easily; all I have to do is stop listening to the gentle, unendingly patient call it stitches through the fabric of everything there is. It compels nothing, so all I have to do is stop paying attention. And I do, after not very long. I can’t bear, for very long at once, to be seen like that. To be seen like that is judgment itself… it is terrible to fall into the hands of the living God.
Only, to be seen like that is forgiveness, too—or at any rate, the essential beginning of forgiveness; and when I come back from the place where the metaphors end, and the light behind light shines, and I open my eyes in the quiet church, for a little while everything I see glows as if it were lamplit from inside, and every flowing particle of the whole gleams in its separate grains; gleams as if it were treasured.