But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
Love your enemies, says Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain, those who curse you, who abuse you, strike you, who steal your coat. He says, love those who not only don't love you but who actively wish you ill. Furthermore, don't judge, don't condemn. Forgive, and give.
This does not strike me as a healthy lifestyle, especially if you are already vulnerable and oppressed. How many of us have internalized this teaching into masochism masking as holiness? Or to justify emotional or spiritual laziness? But readiness to forgive, readiness to love, readiness to show mercy is not the same as acquiescing to evil. Authentic forgiveness takes work and insight.
The retreat this week looks at three ways of loving your enemy; For your own sake, For God's sake, For their own humanity's sake.
The art (pictures of courtly love from the 14th century Codex Manesse / Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, a collection of songs) is meant to be a bit ironic.
Beloved, love one another. -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Love Them For Your Own Sake (Break Free)
Desmond and Mpho Tuto's The Book of Forgiving is an act of creative transformation out of one violent act, as well as the fruit of wisdom gathered through of a lifetime of observing both random and systemic violence, sacrificial truth-telling, and reconciliation. There's no gratuitous sweetness in this helpful, practical, inspiring book.
Some find forgiveness difficult because they believe forgiving means forgetting the pain they have suffered. I can say unequivocally that forgiving does not mean forgetting the harm. It does not mean denying the harm. It does not mean pretending the harm did not happen or the injury was no as bad as it really was. Quite the opposite is true. The cycle of forgiveness can be activated and completed only in absolute truth and honesty.
Forgiving requires giving voice to the violations and naming the pains we have suffered. Forgiving does not require that we carry our suffering in silence or be martyrs on a cross of lies. Forgiveness does not mean that we pretend things are anything other than they are.
-Desmond and Mpho Tutu The Book of Forgiving
God forgives unconditionally So can we The thief on the cross still dies on his cross But forgiveness will set his spirit free And what of you and me standing on the ground with our piles of hurts mounting so high Will we die a thousand deaths before we die? Yearning for revenge, will we die of that thirst? Will the rage that fills us be the stake on which we burn? Will we stumble over every resistance placed in our way? And stay stuck in the misery of it all? Or will we take the chance that we might break free by following this path where it leads Past the whys and lies about how it cannot be Here is our chance Take this chance Break free
-Desmond and Mpho Tutu The Book of Forgiving
Heidelberg Song Book c.1304
Be kind. For everyone you meet is carrying a great burden.
-Ian MacClaren (John Watson) 1850-1907
or, perhaps stronger -
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
-Philo of Alexandria c.20 BCE- c.50 CE
Remind me ten times and more of all that you have forgiven me - without even waiting for my sorrow, the very instant that I slipped and sinned.
Remind me ten thousand times and more of your endless absolution, not even sorrow required on my part, so broad the bounty of your love.
Yes, I can – I will – forgive as you have forgiven me.
-Edward Hays 1931-2016 Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim
The Prophet says: “Lord, in your light we shall see the light.” This is an overflowing light, enlightening every one who comes into the world. It shines upon everyone, the bad as well as the good, just as the sun shines upon all creatures. If they are blind to it, so much the worse for them. If we find ourselves in a darkened house, we need only sufficient light to find a window. Then we can open it and put our head out and we are in the light and become witnesses to the light.
-Johannes Tauler c.1300-1361 Johannes Tauler: Sermons Maria Shrady. Trans.
Illumination from the Heidelberg Songbook, Codex Manesse, 1304
Meditation Two (Insight) Love Them For God's Sake (And a Test of Charity)
This passage from the 14th century English mystical classic The Scale (or Ladder) of Perfection urges the seeker to love his or her enemy out of love of God. God loves your enemy. Try to see them as God sees them, hoping they will grow in holiness. Then, Hilton offers a little test of perfect charity toward your neighbor. See how you do. As for your enemies, and others who are clearly not in a state of grace, you must love them too, not for what they are, nor as if they were good and holy, for they are not; but you must love them of God's sake, hoping that they will become good and holy. You are not to hate anything in them except whatever is contrary to righteousness, and that is sin. This, as I understand it, is the teaching of St Augustine. Only one who is sincerely humble, or desires to be, is capable of loving his fellow-Christian.
If you are not moved to anger and open dislike of a person, and feel no secret hatred which makes you despise, humiliate, or belittle him, then you are in perfect charity with your fellow-Christian. And if , the more he shames or harms you in word or act, the more pity and compassion you feel towards him, as you would feel towards one who was out of his right mind, then you are in perfect charity. And if you feel that you cannot find it in your heart to hate him, knowing love to be good in itself, but pray for him, help him, and desire his amendment – not only in words as hypocrites can do, but with heartfelt love – then you are in perfect charity with your fellow-Christian.
-Walter Hilton c. 1340–45 – 1396 The Scale of Perfection trans. Leo Sherley-Price
Meditation Three (Integration) Loving for Their Sake (Sometimes it takes a Revelation)
When you forgive, you not only free yourself but also set free the person you are forgiving - to grow, change, mature. It is hard to see hurtful people in the light of their own humanity. Sometimes it takes a revelation. The following quotes describe the authors' visions of insight into our common humanity. Dorothy Day reflects upon an experience in prison during a hunger strike and Thomas Merton writes about being in downtown Louisville on an errand for the monastery in these two famous passages.
I reflected on the desolation of poverty, of destitution, of sickness and sin. That I would be free after thirty days meant nothing to me. I would never be free again, never free when I knew that behind bars all over the world there were women and men, young girls and boys, suffering constraint, punishment, isolation and hardship for crimes of which all of us were guilty. . . . Why were prostitutes prosecuted in some cases and in others respected and fawned on? People sold themselves for jobs, for the pay check, and if they only received a high enough price, they were honored. Why were some caught, not others? . . . What was good and evil? . . . Never would I recover from this wound, this ugly knowledge I had gained of what men were capable in their treatment of each other.
-Dorothy Day 1897-1980 The Long Loneliness
Heidelberg Songbook c. 1304
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.
-Thomas Merton 1915-1968 Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
The Last Word
Just as we take a leap of faith when we make a commitment to love someone and get married, we also take a leap of faith when we commit ourselves to a practice of forgiveness.
-Desmond and Mpho Tutu The Book of Forgiving
The Practice of Praying Before Praying
I love prayer books and I often consult The Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayer Book, a mid 1970's liturgical gem from the Reform Jewish tradition. The volume begins with two dozen pages of inspiring quotes. Imagine arriving early to worship, and sitting in the pew with nothing else to do you flip open your prayer book and find:
The pious ones of old used to wait a whole hour before praying, the better to concentrate their minds on God.
Badda-boom. Now you know what to do before the singing starts.
And the second quote is like unto it:
The Rebbe of Tsanz was asked by a Chasid: What does the Rabbi do before praying? I pray, was the reply, that I may be able to pray properly.
Praying before prayer. To those of us with hidden burdens, who sometimes find our hearts too heavy to lift to God, to those of us bogged down by torpor, skepticism, or grief, those of us ordinary and extraordinary sinners and just general procrastinators, praying before you start praying is a reasonable practice. It's like stretching before exercise to help prevent you from injuries during your workout.
In Desmond and Mpho Tutu's book mentioned above (Meditation One), the authors acknowledge the difficulty of forgiving. For those burned by betrayal, done violence to, stolen from, slapped on both cheeks, coat, shirt, shoes stripped, they offer this prayer before praying. Here is the beginning of it.
Prayer Before the Prayer
I want to be willing to forgive But I dare not ask for the will to forgive In case you give it to me And I am not yet ready I am not yet ready for my heart to soften I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor's eyes Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried I am not yet ready for the journey I am not yet interested in the path I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness ...