I’m not a fan of acceptance. It is highly regarded, I know. I’ve been reading about it again (it crops up everywhere) in a 20th century devotional, enjoining us to accept suffering, ‘nay to embrace it’, as the only sure path to God’s grace, and to the only sure joy: the after-death variety.
It’s been that kind of week.
But I also encounter this injunction to accept suffering during much saner weeks and in completely uncalcified places. It has a big following. People even take classes in it and practically march in philosophical, spiritual streets for it.
But I don’t buy it. Not as an emotional state to aspire to.
Yes, if it is the acceptance of external circumstances in this moment for what they actually are – denial begone – then fine. Good. Great. March.
But if it is the acceptance of some ‘inevitable’ inner emotional state in response to those circumstances; if it is ‘making peace’ with keen discomfort, or fear, or grief or worry because ‘that feeling is natural in these circumstances’ and so in these circumstances we have no agency, no power, no way to dissipate those feelings? Forget it.
Humans are hardwired to face what is verifiably real, to accept it (on the road to changing it when possible), to express vigorously whatever un-joyful feelings arise in the facing of it, to find and replace any untrue assumptions that have given rise to those feelings and then fairly quickly to regain joy.
Joy is the natural default, the built-in state of the human being. Woe is only a natural response to threatening circumstances (or to the lived-as-true untrue assumption of threatening circumstances). Woe as a natural response is intended to be acknowledged honestly and expressed fully and then, its expression having produced healing, it is to be on its way, replaced vigorously by joy.
If I sound confident about this, I am. If nothing else, current medical understanding of the human immune system tells us all we need to know about joy. Joy produces immunity. Woe depletes it. Joy, therefore, lengthens life. Woe shortens it. Joy we must embrace. Woe we must replace.
So our job, it seems to me, is not to accept woe as even an occasionally decreed state. Our job is to dislodge it and return to joy. Then our job is to negotiate any real threat, meet its challenges and reconfigure our lives.
Simply put, there is nowhere in the human design an inevitable requirement of victimhood. Even the victimhood of acceptance of woe. There is instead (and wonderfully) the built-in inner power to regain inner power. The power, as Wendell Berry said, to ‘choose joy, having considered all the facts’.
William Blake said it, too:
Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine, runs a joy with silken twine.
Life loves fine lines. And this is one.
Let Him Be
Poor Christ. I feel for him. In my heart I shout, ‘Christianity, back off and let him be. Stop in your Sunday tracks and notice him’. Him. Take off your robes and see him.
He was enough, don’t you think? Just him. Just his uncapitalised, be-sandled, chiton-ed nomad self, that searching, teaching, healing, transforming, suffering-of-the-little-children, seeing self. Wasn’t his understanding of love enough?
Wasn’t only one line, in fact, of his message on the mountain, enough? Wasn’t ‘Love your enemies’ enough for uncountable lifetimes?
Christopher and I are watching a new (2023) BBC documentary about Putin. It opens with video of him striding solo on alabaster and onyx, through enfilades, passing pilasters, cornices and maiolica onto miles of red into the luminescence of two thousand worshippers exultant, privileged to prostrate their lifted-up earlier worker selves to magnify him, to get a peek. This vault of vulgarity is a vapid vestige of the idea of dignity and equality for the vilified poor, the despised and rejected majority. Wasn’t that little-c communist thought, that vision, that urge enough? An idea impossibly, and thus wonderfully, worthy? Worth even coming close? Even for a moment? I guess not. They moved it all into their PalaceChurches, laying red all the way to their pulpits.
I see Putin, and I think of us. He and we had a duty, and we failed. We had a body of thought to embody. We had the very same majority cast-asides to embrace and raise up, but we raised altars and chalices instead. We stayed outside the idea by standing inside the palazzo.
Both entreaties to love fell into the churning, chomping, insatiable spitting vat of grandeur. Before Christ had been dead a second (293 years), out came the places of worship, and soon the marble and gilt and balustrades and colonnades and sculpted fenestrations, the chasubles, the thrones, the fonts, the funny-hatted guards, the turrets with tea cosy tops, the sceptres to separate untouchables from untouchables, processions through glazed halls around gluey-eyed gargoyles and into infallible Authority.
We defiled the Christian idea in all its forms through all our forms.
Can we please go back?
Can we just sit on a log somewhere among the Trilliums and think about ‘Love your enemies’?
Can we do that even once before we die?
Can we stay home just one Sunday and do that? Or gather plainly with others in silence and do that?
Which enemy would you choose to love? And how will you know when you’ve loved them?
Would you ever need robes, crowns, crosses, stained glass, genuflection, pews and their brass dedications, aisles or even candles again?
We say we worship the message of love. Then let’s embody it. Let’s sit down until we love someone we loathe.
Would we ever get up?