Friday, April 19, 2013


I started this post weeks ago, but words evaded me.  I don't know if they'll come today, but the word "forgiveness" continues to push itself into my consciousness.  I am paying attention and believe that doing so will bring forth whatever words need to be written.

I was supposed to lead a writing retreat this weekend, but unfortunately, it had to be cancelled.  The first invitation I planned to make for retreatants and myself was to choose a word to focus on during the retreat.  More accurately, I would invite us to be attentive to the word that would chose us. Though the retreat is not happening, a word has chosen me.


Thanks to my Lenten pledge to practice Forgiveness Fridays, I've had plenty of occasions to consider forgiveness over the last few months. I collected quotes; I created and led rituals with my students; I thought a lot about who I need to forgive and who I need to ask forgiveness.  When I began my Forgiveness Friday practice, I wasn't sure I'd have enough material for a new forgiveness-focused ritual or practice each week.

What arrogance.

I quickly came to realize that I have enough material in my own life (and I consider myself to be a pretty decent human being) to focus on forgiveness every day...some days, every hour.

I have begun to realize how often I push away those who love me (this includes God) and who are trying to love me better.  I have begun to realize how often I judge others because they don't fit the image I think they "should." I have begun to realize how often I judge myself because I don't fit the image I think I "should." I have begun to realize how often I have to both ask forgiveness and extend it.  I've been trying to do so more faithfully, but know that if I made a list of people I needed to forgive or ask forgiveness, it would be long.  I don't want to think about that list, because I don't know how to approach most of the people on it to admit what I have intentionally or inadvertently done to hurt them.  Perhaps writing here is my coward's answer until I have the courage to admit face-to-face the pain I cause.

I have been watching coverage of the hunt for the second Boston Marathon bomber. A reporter asked the uncle of the young men, Ruslan Tsarni, what he'd like to say to his nephew who is still on the loose.

“If you are alive, turn yourself in and ask forgiveness from the victims, from the injured. … ask forgiveness from these people.”  

I doubt that it will happen, but it is good advice nonetheless. Not just for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  For all of us.  We all have something (or many things) for which we need to ask forgiveness. 

During one Forgiveness Friday ritual, I read a story from Mary Lou Kownacki's A Monk in the Inner City about forgiveness.  The father of a boy who was arrested for the brutal murder of a young girl asked Sister Mary, a Benedictine sister, to visit Scott, his son-turned-murderer.  Before the boy was arrested, Sister Mary had made the statement, "I'm afraid if I met the murderer, I'd want to rip his heart out." Needless to say, it was a challenge or her to minister to the murderer, a boy she knew personally.  

Like the uncle of the Boston bombers, Sister Mary urged Scott to ask forgiveness.  When talking to him, she did not sugar-coat her own struggle with the murder or his role in it. She didn't claim that people would ever forgive him for his heinous act. 

 "God, however, is a different story." If he was truly sorry, she told Scott, God would forgive him.  Later she admitted to Kownacki, "I certainly believe in a God of unlimited forgiveness and compassion, but it was a stark reminder of how far I am from the scripture - 'Be compassionate as your God is compassionate.'" 

I, too, have a long way to go to live that way.  But I am trying.  And I am learning.  What I've gleaned so far: 

Forgiveness, like any other skill, takes practice.  Lots and lots (and lots!) of practice.

Forgiveness is not an act, but a process. 

Forgiveness is hard work.  “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” 
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Forgiveness takes time.  Sometimes it takes years. 

Forgiveness is necessary work for our own well-being. "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." - Lewis B. Smedes 

Forgiveness, even for heinous acts, is possible.  This story of forgiveness inspires me: 

Michel Quoist wrote a prayer, "Lord, Deliver Me from Myself."  It includes the response God might give.  Perhaps these words can help us to practice forgiveness:

I have heard you. 
I am sorry for you. 
I have long been watching your closed shutters.  Open them; my light will come in.
I have long been standing at your locked door; open it; you will find me on the threshold.

I am waiting for you, the others are waiting for you,
But you must open, 
You must come out. 

Why choose to be a prisoner of yourself?
You are free. 
It is not I who locked the door,
It is not I who can open it.
...For it is you, from the inside, who persist in keeping it firmly barred. 

May we acknowledge that it is we who close the door on God and each other.  May we throw wide open the door to love through the acts of offering and accepting forgiveness. 

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