I have in my lifetime broken enough promises to my Lord and God [or to myself for those gentle readers who might share a different cosmology to mine] that I do not need for ‘the wall’ to remind me. The wall in question is on Goddard Street, Newtown, where I spent the early years of my life. I still walk up that little street, turning left to continue onto King Street, where our ancient café the Reno with other names continues to exist. Whenever I am in Sydney I will come here to chew the cud and to reminisce with my old ghosts. This week I was in Kingsgrove to spend time with Mother who was having eye surgery and to visit Father who is sleeping in Rookwood. ‘The wall’ is the side of an old building now splattered in graffiti. Years ago it ‘belonged’ to a notorious Greek nightclub, the Mykonos.
There are things which burn into the subconscious making them hard to forget, and typically they are events or encounters which contribute to our identity. Today I was in Newtown walking up Goddard and where normally I might simply acknowledge ‘the wall’ to move on, this time it was different. I had been thinking how long it had been since my last confession and I stopped to brush my left hand against it in self admonition. This was close to the spot where thirty-six years earlier I had slammed the underside of my closed hand in frustration, and in the process making one of my first [and ill-conceived] promises to God. When we “promise” something we quite literally ‘send it forward’ by making a declaration or giving an assurance.
Not surprisingly, soon afterwards I broke this promise.
I would make it a second time being none the wiser, in different places and in faraway worlds, in deserts and in cities, the same result. I broke it again. And I would struggle with this ‘thorn’ in the flesh for decades. But this is not the reason for this little journal entry. What I want to do here, is to especially encourage my younger readers to not despair if they have broken a promise, or indeed even a vow to our Father, Who art in heaven. Often enough our big promises to God and still to our earthly companions, could be made out of an anxiety to express the true intention of hearts or to reveal solidarity in a common cause. There are many reasons why we might feel strongly driven ‘to give our word’ to the deity or to a friend. It should not shock that most of us will in the end fail, that we will stumble and before too long become confronted with yet another instance of our breaking a promise. The feelings are more intense and dreadful for the religious if they feel they have ‘perjured’ themselves against their Creator. It does not help to spend the remainder of our lives in recrimination or self-blame and so becoming blind-sided to the many tremendous opportunities of visiting grace. We are not speaking here of impulsive promises or oaths, they should be resolutely avoided. And pledges should in no way be made lightly. So what to do if in a moment of spiritual fervour or youthful zeal we make a promise to the Most High only to have it broken soon after?
I hurt for having been too quick in the giving of my word. For a long time it was a yoke around the neck. And though I struggled much with the knowledge of the broken promise I did not despair that restoration would one day arrive to bring its consolation. For in the end, what does matter is the true intent of the heart [or the “will” which is behind all things as one of my favourite philosophers argued]. It is this honesty to be found in our souls [or in our “fragmented wills” as another profound thinker has said] and the desire to give the very best to our Maker that should comfort us. Ironically, it was this which is the authentic promise, the intent itself. We have not broken our word if only we should continue to strive towards its fulfilment. It is one of the most comforting and encouraging paradoxes to be found in the wisdom literature of the great religions that there are ways to make amends if we should go back on our word. In this atmosphere of the spirit we are not dealing with ‘worldly’ contract law which can be terribly unforgiving.
I would remember these words from the psalter and weep, “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips (Ps 89:34) and yet from the same book I received both my comfort and hope, “[t]he steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.” (Ps 37:23-24) We can be severely harsh with ourselves and this will rob us of wonderful opportunities and dim too much of our natural brightness. I still make promises to my Maker, and still I break them. Whether this is because of spiritual weakness or physical infirmity or the abiding desire to express my love to Him through grandiose declarations: “I promise that from this day onwards I will always be the first to ask forgiveness from the other.” [Okay, then, from this Monday… the New Year at least… I start again]. Sounds familiar, does it not? I remember also, and alas, too well, those times when I was very close to losing my life in heavy seas off the New South Wales south coast and in the stormy skies above the Caribbean flying over to Puerto Rico, and the solemn promises made should I be delivered from the approaching darkness. These promises too, broken.
But when was it I first supposed that making a promise to change something was any more powerful than the simple joy of trying to do it.
 The two references here of course to Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) in the first place and to Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) in the second.
 In Islam, for instance, a broken promise to Allah is a serious act but there are a number of opportunities for expiation, such as to engage in acts of charity, or alms giving, or fasting. In Buddhism it is heavy karma to break a promise but once committed the direction is to straightaway get back into the path. In Judaism if a vow is made in error or unwittingly or if the person was not fully aware of the ramifications, the vow or oath can be declared to be null and void by a rabbi or a sage.