The thoughts associated with a thousand events compete for space in my mind. Past, present, and future have a way of shouting for attention interrupting the quiet moments of solitude that I seek. The oasis that I actively cultivate to escape the cavalcade parading by is indeed but a mirage. There is no oasis. There is no shade. There is no cool drink of water. Only the scorching heat of the twin suns of guilt and shame. And even they don’t really exist. They are simply imaginations inspired by events long ago in galaxies far, far away. Thank you, George Lucas, for imagining worlds denied me by religion.
I can still conjure the moment my oldest brother knocked on the door and invited five-year-old me to watch the movie everyone was talking about, Star Wars. It was so popular that it had penetrated even the remotest portions of rural Arkansas. Of course, I wanted to see that movie. But even at five, I had attended enough church services to know that this was taboo. A prohibited activity that I probably should avoid. Strange that an imagination so vivid should be denied an opportunity to kindle a fire of enchantment in my mind. Sunday night revival meetings would have to suffice as the impetus to whatever creativity that would eventually blossom in my fertile consciousness.
To be clear, I could have very easily said yes to my brother’s invitation to go and watch the movie. The fact that he was inviting me to join him was an indication that a parent had signed off on the possibility that I would want to go, perhaps it was some sort of test of allegiance to developing convictions or maybe a momentary abdication of parental commitments to spiritual training. Or maybe, my rebellious older brother was simply acting out of his own volition? I don’t know. I do know I didn’t go to the theater to watch Star Wars. I didn’t go because I felt a tinge of guilt at even entertaining the thought of violating a prohibition of my church. I was five years old.
My efforts to recover these thoughts isn’t intended to demean the well-intentioned folks who were attempting to shield me from worldly influences. But rather, it is an effort at self-discovery and understanding as to why now as an adult preparing to make my fiftieth circumnavigation of the Sun, that I still struggle with inexplicable guilt. Why does it hang over me like a cloud darkening my thoughts and hindering my focus?
I was reading earlier today of the differences between prohibitions and inhibitions. Prohibition is issued by an external authority detailing what cannot or should not be done. Inhibition is a proclamation of the self that something cannot or should not be done. Inhibitions are then limiting beliefs while prohibitions are enforced restrictions. But I wonder what is the connection between externally enforced restrictions as they serve to create and inform internally limiting beliefs? There were lot of things that I chose not to participate in as a child, young person, and adult that weren’t informed by anything other than my church tradition. Did these prohibitions somehow serve to cultivate a larger proclivity in me to police myself in a way that actually truncated my emotional and social development?
For example, platonic relationships can be difficult for me. Perhaps this is some kind of residual influence of a religious heritage that carefully regulated human relationships and tended to hold people, particularly women in contempt for how they dressed and behaved. Or perhaps it was a natural inhibition of adolescence that was somehow interrupted by overly religious obsessions. Whatever the source, it is amazing how debilitating adult guilt can become at times. I have discovered that when I am vulnerable about my fears and inhibitions, it is strangely empowering. My acknowledgment of these issues and my willingness to talk or write about them is cathartic and therapeutic.
The French sociologist, philosopher, and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard, commenting on the work of Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges, writes; “Cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up covering the territory exactly. Over time, that map begins to fray until all that is left are a few shreds…still discernible in the deserts.” The moral maps I inherited are now unraveling in the winds of middle age, revealing the realities of unexplored territories. Albeit steep mountains and deep valleys, they are a welcomed change to predictable religious charts. And Jesus makes a fine Sherpa.
I finally watched Star Wars in its entirety when it was released on VHS in 1982. I’m still a huge fan.