Sunday, August 26, 2007

righting the wrongs

Fatty and I have been taking turns reading 'The Folk of the Faraway Tree' to Laura and Benjamin each night. It's a lovely, fanciful story.

The other night, I read to the kids about a tiny goblin who wanted to know the secret of forgetting. He 'had once done a wicked thing, and couldn't forget it'. So the goblin went to the cave of the Wizard Tall-Hat to ask for help.

When the goblin left the cave, the children in the story asked him what the secret to forgetting was. The goblin answered them thus:

"I'll tell it to you, because then if you do a wrong thing, maybe you can get right with yourself afterwards. It's so dreadful if you can't."

"Well, the Wizard Tall-Hat told me that if I can do one hundred really kind deeds to make up for the one very bad one I did, maybe I'll be able to forget a little, and think better of myself. So I'm off to do my first kind deed".

The day I read this, I was feeling uneasy about something I'd done wrong. I don't know that it was a 'very bad one', as the goblin put it, but I knew I'd made a hasty and silly decision. I'd been feeling guilty all day. So it was uplifting to read this funny little book, and to remind myself that the best way to atone for a wrong deed (beyond apology, or fixing the wrong - which may not always be possible anyway) is to concentrate fiercely on doing many more good deeds in the future.

We all like to tell ourselves that we are 'good' people, and I believe that most people are 'good' at heart. However, it is frighteningly easy to slip off the path of honourable behaviour. It's all too easy to be jealous, to say something unkind in anger, to pass on nasty gossip, to tell small lies, to be uncharitable. I know, because I have transgressed in every one of these ways.

On the rare occasions I go to church (weddings, christenings, when staying with my husband's family), I almost always enjoy the sermon. Perhaps because it's a novel event for me, I find myself really listening to the words of the minister. I soak up the message, because I know myself to be flawed. I know that I need reminding of how to be good.

I'm not a religious person, though, so going to church seems hypocritical. When prayers pledging belief are read aloud, I sit silently. When the congregation goes up for wafers and wine, I remain seated. And once, in my twenties, I sat through a christening sermon in which the minister explained how we are all born 'wicked', and that we remain thus until we are christened. Those who are not christened, the minister explained, stay wicked in their hearts. I sat, distraught, through the service, and left in tears (I've never been christened).

So without a regular Sunday sermon, I try to stay on the straight and narrow by being accountable to myself - by examining my own behaviour, and trying to make changes when I go astray. But I get busy, and I get lazy, and I forget.

Inspiration for me in the constant struggle to live a 'good' life has come from an unexpected source. Almost every day, John Cowart writes on his blog, Rabid Fun. John is wryly funny, he is anything but pious, and he is always striving to be a better person. He quotes the bible, and he takes lessons from everyday life. I read and enjoy every post. If you want humble wisdom, go no further than this blog!

Socrates said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. I reckon he, too, must have been a pretty switched-on guy.


thisisme said...

I loved the Faraway Tree books - and I remember that story. I've been thinking a lot about what living a "good" life means lately. I think the simplicity of doing good things for/to others is definitely one to stay there. I just wish it was always as simple as it sounds.

Val said...

Jelly, we are so on the same wavelength.

My mother raised us as Lutherans, and we were baptised/christened. When I was about 11 a poorly informed Sunday School teacher, when I asked her what would happen to my Jewish friends, told me that they would go to hell. That ended my formal association with religion.

I've since of course come to realise that there are people like John Cowart who represent the good in people. I feel enriched by his writings. And by yours too!

freefalling said...

Whoa - I'm not used to you posting two posts so close together - I haven't had time to digest the other one yet and now you've hit us with this!
(I liked the "wafers and wine" line.
I think they might be called the Eucharist!)
I'm not a church goer-too disillusioned-after 13 years of Catholic school.
And I profess not to be a Christian but I'm always going on about "God did this or God did that".
I'm just as bamboozled as the next poor bewildered person wandering the earth!

Kerri said...

This is a tough one for me to comment on Jelly because I don't want it to sound like a lecture (I know how you hate lectures :)
Being a Christian I consider the Bible my "Life Manual". It's my book of instruction, God's Word, and I love to follow it.
We all need reminding of how to "be good" and we need to be accountable to one another, and to God (my belief...again, not meant to be a lecture).
Listening to Pastor's sermon each week reinforces these life lessons..and reminds me of what God expects of me. I don't always do what I know I should, obviously, but I know where to turn for forgiveness, and I strive to follow His gentle instruction.
That minister long ago was not quoting the Bible, so it's unfortunate that you heard his message at such an impressionable age.
You should never feel like a hypocrite while sitting in's a place where every one of us is more than welcome :)

woogoon said...

Good grief jellyhead - we must have gone to the same church!!!

I found that this sort of talk, which was thrown at us by the priests/ministers, was why I dissociated myself with the "church" as such, and developed my belief in a "higher" being than some bigoted "Sunday christian".

i believe I'm better off now than I was then!!!!

Puss-in-Boots said...

I loved the Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books and my grandchildren loved them too, when they were smaller.

I don't go to church either and prefer to think of being spiritual rather than religious. Having said that, I am like the next person, falling off the straight and narrow with monotonous regularity and with just the same monotonous regularity, getting back on.

At least we try...some folk just take pleasure in passing on spiteful gossip, hurting others and swanning off without a thought for it all. Such is life.

That was a very contemplative post, Jelly, but good to read and to know that I'm the are a large amount of us.

Take care

Alice said...

I wasn't going to comment here because I didn't want to admit that although a committed Christian, my commitment is not nearly as active as it ought to be, and that does bother me.

I'm also somewhat bemused at how often people are 'turned off' by one remark from a priest/or Church member, yet in almost every other aspect of life we meet people who disagree with our belief, be it in sport, work, entertainment, politics, or a hundred other areas, yet we don't suddenly give up our commitment to any of them just on one remark.

Obviously, spirituality is a very personal matter, and I think we need to show a lot more tolerance for all people, regardless of their preference.

Thank you, Jelly, for another thought-provoking posting. You may not acknowledge any particular faith, but gee whiz, I'd love to have even a fraction of many of your wonderful characteristics.

John Cowart said...

Hi Jellyhead,

Thank you for your kind words.

I feel honored to be compared to a goblin in a cave; you hit the nail on the head there.

Incidentally, for what it's worth, I checked my Strong's Exhaustive Concordance To The Bible and find that the word "christened" is never once found in the Scripture.

Alice said...

Thanks, Jelly, for your comment on 'Mrs Dimwhitty' - I may just do a posting on your query !!!

meggie said...

This is a very thoughtful post Jelly. I am openly non religious. I used to hide the fact, but dont feel ashamed now, I feel free to be me.
I do strive to live a better kinder life, & try not to be too hard on others, or myself, for the human frailties.
I think you are essentially a very good person!

fifi said...

oh, Jelly.

I refer constantly to the magic farawy tree. It seems to represent life: you never quite know which world you might stop in, a nasty one or a nice.

I am currently writing on nostalgia and memory, I am writing on forgetting. I think my paper would do well to cite Enid Blyton, don't you?

Regarding religion, I guess it can be good and bad.
I think a lot can be learned from the actions of Jesus, since he was such a radical, yet so good hearted and kind..among other things.
But as a protestant who spent life among a catholic order dedicated to providing a rigorous education for females, I have interesting views.

I believe religion on one level is all about power, really.
But it can also be about reverence, and thinking about others, both of which seem to get lost in our capitalistic whirlwind world.

I personally don't beleive in an afterlife. I believe that you should make the most of the one you're in, and anyone who says little children (or anyone else) will go to hell, be damned themselves.

Loved the last post: totally agree. To finish a sentence in one's own head is...a luxury!

Redneck Mommy said...

I'm constantly amazed by you. I really do think we were meant to find one another.

As a gal who has been told she will never see the pearly gates cuz she has (and will remain) unbaptized, your post resounded within me.

We all need a reminder on how to be good. Because it is easy to be wicked. But I truly, and fundamentally believe we are mostly good at heart. Even if a tad lazy.

And I love me some John Cowart. Love him.

Remiman said...

Everone steps of the PATH. That's how we learn. It's knowing the way that makes all the difference.

I miss you too Jelly.

Charlette ;-)

susan said...

I have never heard of these books, but they sound great! Not just for kids, either (apparently). Have you done your 100 deeds yet? You are posting more often, is that included in your good deeds? Cuz we just love it!

Mimi said...

I have so many thoughts about your post that I can barely even write anything sensible. I seem to get tied in knots and say exactly what I was trying not to say. In the end we are all in this together even if we choose to go different pathways. I am hopeful that everything will come out in the wash and in the meantime I'll keep on my religious and spiritual path and serve others as often as I am able.