Finding the Freedom to Forgive, Part 3 of 5

Prologue: The temper of the times, nationally and globally, politically and personally, is wroth. Division and anger reign. I do not stand apart, casting my judging eye on all ‘round about me. For I, as opinionated and, I confess, as grudge-bearing as (and, depending on the subject, perhaps more than) the next person, bear in my body, my belly the prevailing tensions of these days. As a Christian, I am called to contemplate that cardinal, necessary act, indeed, art of all human relating: Forgiveness.

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I can forgive, yet I cannot forget. Perhaps, then, the best I can hope to do, applying practically Jesus’ call, “to take up my cross,” is to bear the weight of my woundedness and, thus, not unload it (in the misspent energy of my misdirected anger) on others to carry.

That said, there is something else, something more I have learned. I do not believe it is possible for me to be cured; that is, with all marks and manifestations of my woundedness erased as if my being hurt never happened. However, it is possible for me to heal; that is, to acknowledge with honest grace and to bear with humble dignity the injuries and scars of the…my human condition.

One path to healing, coming full circle, is forgiveness.

Manifold are the ways to define forgiveness. But first, a renewed realization.

Apart from all theological and ethical suppositions about the higher calling of selflessness (to which, yes, I aspire), considering my existential being, I acknowledge afresh that human life, my human life, as I have experienced it, never is devoid wholly of the (my) self. Hence, in my lexicon, forgiveness, in no small part, is a great act of enlightened self-interest. Verily, a grand art of self-love. To forgive is to give-for (to do something for) another for the sake of myself, indeed, my self.

Forgiveness.

To remove the Damoclean sword (not, according to the legend, of the peril of power, but rather of my quite contemporary self-claimed right) of retribution o’er the head of one who has offended me. All for the sake of liberating me from that life-stunting habit of rehearsing and reciting the record of past offenses done unto me.

Forgiveness.

To raze that tall wall of mistrust that I erect between myself and those who have offended me. All for the sake of opening myself to the possibility of restitution, even reconciliation.

Forgiveness.

To rend that opaque veil of indignation that blinds me to an offender’s whole humanity; the hard for me to recall good as well as the easy for me to remember not so good. All for the sake of clearing, cleansing my vision so to behold others to be as I am, that is, as complexly inscrutable human mysteries.

4 thoughts on “Finding the Freedom to Forgive, Part 3 of 5

  1. Oh my Paul, healed but not cured….that truly struck me… I was cured of and healed from a disease that tried to kill me but a lot of my organs had to be removed in order for that to have occurred. I too have a wall up now and I trust much less easily now after an incident with a close relative that you are well aware of. In order to be cured of that hurt based on how I’m reading this post and my previous illness experiences I’d have to cut out part of my brain and heart to be cured of that hurt. But I gave forgiven but it won’t be possible for me to ever forget. Because forgetting could put me In a position to have the same type of hurt again, which I’m never going to do unless I get dementia and I have written instructions on what to do in that event. Thank you for that phrase healed but not cured as it makes more things clear to me.

    Much love!

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  2. Dear Paul,

    As often happens, your thoughts and willingness to wrestle publicly in this forum with the great issues of life have set off my own musings. I am caught up in your earnest struggling with the idea of forgiveness, its benefits, its necessity, its difficulty, its limitations. I so resonated with the Damoclean sword and the idea of “liberating me from that life-stunting habit of rehearsing and reciting the record of past offenses done unto me.” Oh, can I identify with that!!!

    I had lunch with a dear friend that I hadn’t seen in a while a couple of weeks ago, and one of the first things she said to me was, “Oh, Karen. I have decided I am DONE with living in the past!” And what she meant was that she had cut the cord and taken down the Damoclean sword that she had hanging over a number of important people in her life and was done with the long-term recitation of wrongs done to her and others. Such a feeling of release and relief when we can do that; when we can set aside the active pursuit of our own blamelessness and justification (which may very well be absolutely true) in certain situations in favor of moving on to a sense of rest, a conclusion that some things can and should become, not invisible, but simply inert rather than active in the new day in which we are living now.

    As I am wont to do, I fished around for a metaphor to describe for myself the situation of having offered forgiveness but never being able to forget. You and Loretta have both mentioned scars, and I think that’s very apt. Pre-forgiveness is, to my mind, the open wound, ugly, bleeding, actively painful. Forgiveness brings substantial healing, stanches the blood flow, eases the pain, closes the wound. But if the wound is deep enough, severe enough, the scar is always going to remain, with perhaps some residual pain on occasion. I have such a scar on my knee from a really horrific bike accident I had on a loose gravel road in Inman when I was 13. The wound was ghastly ugly when it happened (made my dad drop the ice cube tray he was filling at the sink when I walked in the back door!), requiring a lot of stitches to close. But it healed, and the scar, ugly as it is, serves a very useful purpose. It makes my knee pretty much whole, completely usable again. In a strange way, however, if I now ever looked down and saw my knee without that scar, I think I would miss it; it has become a part of my body that makes me ME. It testifies to something that happened from which I moved on and did just fine. If I ever required pretty knees, I certainly haven’t required them for a very long time, and I’ll take both of them now just as they are, since they’ve been with me for life!

    Thank you, Paul, as always, for getting my thoughts going. I think it’s very valuable to understand not only how scripture, the world, and Christian theology view forgiveness, but how it works in our own lives, what it can do and what it cannot accomplish, and what we should not expect that it accomplish. It really doesn’t wash the slate clean, does it? But maybe it renders the slate usable for new ideas and new words, even if we can never quite fail to see some faint remnants of the old, painful writing it once bore so clearly.

    With gratitude and love,

    Karen

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  3. As always – and I do mean ALways and in ALL ways, you two dearest sisters stir my mind and heart and soul and spirit with more musings…

    Yes, Loretta, to forget, I believe, would put me in the position to be wounded again (and in the same way) by the one who caused an offense. Still, to know that healing is possible is a grand thing. Truth to tell, I am not sure – candidly, I am sure! – that I would want to be cured of having been hurt if that meant that the slate was wiped clean and I carried on as if the initial/original offense had not happened. This stirs my memory of a mythological tale about Charon, who captained the ferry that transported the souls of the dead across the River Styx to their final resting places. Charon promised one such soul, “I can grant you the ability ne’er to remember anything of your past life in the world.” She replied, “I can forget all the wrong done to me and the wrong done by me to others?” “Yes,” Charon answered. “But,” she said, “will I forget all the good that happened?” “Yes,” Charon answered, “that, too. You will not remember anything.” “Then,” she said, “I choose not to accept your offer, for I choose to remember everything.”

    Karen, your life’s illustration of your injury and your scar on your knee is crystallizing for me. The scar as an unmistakable and visible emblem of the soundness of your once injured knee (here, I also think of a tree limb or trunk once damaged in a storm – and given the tornado that touched down in Spartanburg and at Clevedale yesterday, this, truly, is a fresh image! – becoming stronger in that formerly broken place) and as an indelible part of the you that (who!) is you, for me, is a triumphant testimony to the power of claiming all things, even the toughest and the worst, for good. Another word of yours, for me, is deeply telling and compelling: “I think it’s very valuable to understand…how (forgiveness) works in our own lives, what it can do and what it cannot accomplish, and what we should not expect that it accomplish.” I respond with one word: Amen. For, for me, how oft (and I reply quite often!) Christian scripture has been misused when interpreted severely and applied dogmatically, thus, leaving little (no!) room for how individuals come to their own learnings via their own quite particular experiences.

    ALways and in ALL ways, my love and gratitude to you, each and both,
    Paul

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    1. Oh, Paul!!! I am so sorry to hear about the tornado damage to Clevedale. I saw some of the pictures on Facebook. I am heartbroken for you and Pontheolla over the trees you lost and the damage to others. I know how very special and rare such trees are, particularly in the kind of setting Clevedale provides. I hope you find no other damage to your house, and I pray that you are able to save the damaged trees and find suitable replacements for the lost ones, although I know it will never be the same again, at least in none of our lifetimes.

      I’m sending you many warm thoughts for comfort and peace of mind in the face of this catastrophe, and my prayers arise for the recovery and renewal that will need to happen and for your ability to keep the Inn going strong while it takes place. I’m so grateful the two of you are safe; that’s the most important thing of all.

      Much love to you both,

      Karen

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