Some songs are so beautiful and so true, that I cannot listen without tears in my eyes and burning fire in my heart.
“I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn‘t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah”
lyrics from “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
You see, I believe in God… but my God is a bit bigger than most people’s God. In fact, most of the people who come closest to what I believe are atheists. My God is all of existence, the good and the bad both. He is above my understanding, but it is my place to constantly try to reach for Him and know Him and, sometimes, even be Him. Things that are impossible to accomplish, and yet we all do it on a daily basis.
My God does not punish sin. My God does not reward faith. My God does not ask anything of me beyond being. But since I exist, and since I believe that love and beauty are good things, if I want the universe around me to manifest love and beauty, then I must make it so. I must live as a loving person and a singer of beautiful songs… even if I can only sing silently in words on a page.
However did someone as dopey as me come up with something as dopey as this? Let me tell you a story.
When I was ten, an older boy, a neighbor, trapped me, de-pants me, and abused me. It was not love in any way. It was sexualized torture. He made me feel pain. He took away my sense of well-being. He made me afraid to touch or be touched by others. He made me believe my own physical urges were a terrible thing that God would punish me for. I wet my pants in school more than once, because I feared the boys’ bathroom at school. I no longer tried so hard to make the other kids laugh. I sank into depression. And ultimately, I thought about ending myself in painful ways, ways I felt I deserved.
But I was blessed. My best friend’s father was the minister of the Methodist Church and, eventually, both churches in our little town. And in the late 60’s, the Methodists decided to be very progressive on matters of human sexuality. When I was twelve, he taught all the kids in my age group about sex using a blackboard and a willingness to frankly discuss anything we needed to know. Of course, he never quite figured out what my terrible secret was, in fact, I couldn’t have told him about it if I wanted to, the memory was repressed and I couldn’t call it up until that day in college when it all came back to me at age 22. But he knew it was there. He is the one that taught me that faith in God is about love. It is not about punishment, especially not punishment for biological urges and physical needs. People need love, and should never be castigated or humiliated because they seek it. And he told me that I was not to blame for the acts of others. The notion of original sin, that we are all born despicable because Adam goofed, is nonsense. All people, even the bad ones, are God’s children and worthy of love. People can be redeemed from anything. And it is the job of worthy people to be the love that informs the universe. We must do good deeds and love, honor, and, most of all, render aid to others. Because that fills the universe with goodness and light.
Both the good Reverend Aiken and my abuser are dead now. I deeply love one, and I forgive the other. And it’s because that’s what God is… love and forgiveness. It has to be so.
Did you listen to that song from YouTube? If you made it this far through this rather difficult ramble without listening to it, I recommend you click on it and give it a try. It is about King David sinning with Bathsheba, and repenting his sin before God. And in the end, there was no punishment for him. So, I, too stand before the lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.