Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart." -Matthew 18:21-35
Wisdom consists in doing the next thing that you have to do; doing it with your whole heart and finding delight in doing it. And this delight is the sense of the sacred. -Helen Luke
And what if the 'next thing' is forgiving? Many wise people seemed to be saying that forgiveness is part of a flow of something greater than yourself. “We are forgiven only if we are open to forgiving, but we are able to forgive only in being forgiven- we get only by giving, and we give only by getting.” (-Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 222) And that quality, that substance, that divine medium of forgiveness is what you pass on when, paradoxically, you forgive. Accepting forgiveness is the key to the debtor's prison of resentment where you sit in the self-imposed, fetid debris of your life.
The prompts this week include a testimony of the weightlessness of forgiving (Meditation One), the divine necessity of the practice of forgiveness (Meditation Two) and the mystical sense of inclusion and oneness when discovering the healing of forgiveness (Meditation Three).
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us as you forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us as you forgive us our sins as we...
Meditation One (Introit) Weightlessness
Milly yearned to absolve all those who had troubled her in her life. She forgave her father for naming her Milly instead of Jo Ann, and her mother for passing on to her genes that made her oversensitive to small hurts and slights. She forgave her brother for reading her diary, and her sister for her pretty legs, and her cat for running in front of a truck and winding up pressed flat as a transfer on the road. She forgave everyone who had ever forgotten her birthday and everyone who looked over her shoulder at parties for someone more attractive to talk to. She forgave her boss for being aspish and her lover for lack of empathy and her husband for making uncalled-for remarks about stale breakfast cereal and burned toast. All this dispensing of absolution emptied Milly out and made her light as air. She had a sensation of floating, of weightlessness, and it seemed to her that bells were chiming inside her head.
-Carol Shields 1935-2003 "Pardon" Various Miracles quoted from Reconciliation (Liturgy Training Publications)
I've never met my torturers. My forgiveness of them is from God. Intellectually I think they were very wounded people. I believe the capacity to inflict pain is in all of us.
Sheila Cassidy -from an interview
I would never say to someone ‘you must forgive’. I would not dare. Who am I to tell a woman whose father abused her or a mother whose daughter has been raped that she must forgive? I can only say: ‘However much we have been wronged, however justified our hatred, if we cherish it, it will poison us……We must pray for the power to forgive, for it is in forgiving that we are healed.
-Sheila Cassidy “Seventy times Seven” The Tablet March 2, 1991
I behaved neither more nor less bravely than the majority of the girls... but the very fact that I had suffered to try to protect my friends was an act of witness which made them look enquiringly at an ideology which they had long since discarded: the Christian belief.
O God We remember not only our son but also his murderers; Not because they killed him in the prime of his youth and made our hearts bleed and our tears flow, Not because with this savage act they have brought further disgrace on the name of our country among the civilized nations of the world; But because through their crime we now follow thy footsteps more closely in the way of sacrifice. The terrible fire of this calamity burns up all selfishness and possessiveness in us; Its flame reveals the depth of depravity and meanness and suspicion, the dimension of hatred and the measure of sinfulness in human nature; It makes obvious as never before our need to trust in God's love as shown in the cross of Jesus and his resurrection; Love which makes us free from hate towards our persecutors; Love which brings patience, forbearance, courage, loyalty, humility, generosity, greatness of heart; Love which more than ever deepens our trust in God's final victory and his eternal designs for the Church and for the world; Love which teaches us how to prepare ourselves to face our own day of death.
O God Our son's blood has multiplied the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls; So when his murderers stand before thee on the day of judgment Remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives. And forgive. -Bishop Dehquani-Tafti 1920-2008 Quoted from The Oxford Book of Prayer ed. George Appleton
If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
The Liberation of Saint Peter, Sanzio Raffaello, 1514, detail
Meditation Two (Insight) Who Would I Forgive?
A Sufi saint, on pilgrimage to Mecca, having completed the prescribed religious practices, knelt down and touched his forehead to the ground and prayed: “Allah! I have only one desire in life. Give me the grace of never offending you again.” When the All-Merciful heard this he laughed aloud and said, 'That's what they all ask for. But if I granted everyone this grace, tell me, who would I forgive?”
quoted from Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham -The Spirituality of Imperfection
If you efface and overlook and forgive, then lo! God is forgiving, merciful.
Meditation Three (Integration) Change of Heart
The ultimate experience of forgiveness brings a change of heart, a metanoia of the spirit, after which every seeming injury, injustice, rejection, past, present or future, every so-called blow of fate, becomes, as it were, an essential note in the music of God, however discordant it may sound to our superficial hearing. And the experience excludes nothing- which means that in this moment of forgiveness all one's sins and weaknesses are included, being at the same time both remembered and known as the essential darkness which has revealed to us the light.
-Helen M. Luke Old Age quoted from Reconciliation (Liturgy Training Publications)
The Last Word
Once a woman has forgiven a man, she must not re-heat his sins for breakfast.
-Marlene Dietrich 1901-1992
The Liberation of Saint Peter, Sanzio Raffaello, 1514, detail
I find that my biggest stumbling block - what I trip over in my struggle for daily sanity - is not so much forgiving other people (although I don't dismiss this as being easy), but forgiving myself. Here are some quotes from The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. These quotes are from the chapter on Forgiving Yourself.
When we forgive ourselves, we also free ourselves from a cycle of punishment and retribution directed at ourselves. This is not to say we are not responsible and accountable for our actions. If I come into your house and steal your belongings, I cannot then go home and say, “Well, I forgive myself, so all is right in the world.”
Learning from the past is not the same as being held hostage by what we have done. At some stage we must let go of the past and begin again. We have said repeatedly that no one is undeserving of forgiveness, and this includes you.
I know it can still be difficult to offer ourselves the forgiveness we can so freely give to others. Perhaps we hold ourselves to a higher standard than the standard to which we hold other people. (If we think carefully, we recognize this double standard as a small piece of arrogance: I am a better person than he or she is, so I should behave better.)
None of us is perfect, but we can perfect the art of learning from our past mistakes, and we can perfect the art of self-forgiveness. This is how we grow and change, and, ultimately, begin anew.
I can possibly forgive myself if I try every day to be better, kinder, more generous and loving. More accessible, less judgmental. More devout, more humble, more filled with joy. More fearless. Then maybe at the end of the day, I can forgive myself, a little bit, piece by piece.