thanksgiving forgiving redux

What happens – and, I am bold to say, I believe this to be a common (universal!) human experience – when one you have forgiven for past indiscretions continues to behave indiscreetly?

I asked myself this question when, during our Thanksgiving Day gathering, I took rueful note that one I had forgiven,(1) continued to act, in my view, in ways that immediately refreshed my memory of prior indiscretions.

Before retiring, as Pontheolla and I recounted the wondrously pleasant day, I relayed my observations, saying, “It almost makes me want to rescind my forgiveness.”

As I seek always (well, chiefly) to be honest with myself and with others, I hasten to add, no, not “almost”. For, given how I felt, I did desire to retract my forgiveness. And, no, not “makes me”, for I don’t believe anyone can compel me to do anything against my will (barring, I think, confronting me with a credible threat to my existence). Rather I would withdraw my forgiveness as a matter of self-righteous choice (which, I confess, is not beyond me) and, thus, at minimal best, not hold the other person responsible for my act of conscious volition.

However, I cannot, did not, and will not revoke my forgiveness…for a host of reasons.

I cannot – I am unable to – withdraw what is not mine, though, paradoxically, yes, I did possess it to give. Jesus teaches, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”(2) Yet the truth, his truth is that God always acts first to forgive us, thus, empowering us to do the same, therefore, in the words of the Apostle, we are to “forgiv(e) one another, as God in Christ has forgiven (us).”(3)

I did not withdraw my God-given forgiveness because of what I believe to be an existential truth of all human living: No one arrives at any place of good or ill without, in the former case, the helpful hearts and hands of countless folk, known and unknown, seen and unseen and, in the latter case, without the labors of hurtful hearts and hands. Believing, knowing this to be true, only God knows (surely not, never I) and, thus, can judge the measure and consequences of the influences of good and ill on another.

I will not withdraw my God-given forgiveness because I look “in a mirror, dimly,”(4) unable to see and know myself fully.(5) Thus, the plea of the psalmist resonates within me: “O God, who can detect their sins; cleanse me from my secret faults.”(6) As only God can know and, thus, judge the measure and consequences of my self-awareness and self-ignorance, as I pray the blessing of divine mercy, withholding the just punishment I deserve, so I ought and do pray the same for others.

 

Footnotes:

(1) See my previous post, thanksgiving forgiving, November 25, 2017
(2) Matthew 6.14
(3) Ephesians 4.32b
(4) 1 Corinthians 13.12
(5) Indeed, as I live and breathe, I ever am in the process of being and becoming. All I am is greater (at least, different) than what, who I was. And all I will be is greater (again, at least different) from what, who I am.
(6) Psalm 19.12. On immediate reflection, I have enough difficulty dealing with my sins and faults of which I am aware, let alone the ones of which I am not conscious, that is, that are “secret” to me.

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thanksgiving forgiving

One of the aspects of my living…my being with which I most have wrestled and do wrestle is forgiveness. For reasons, at least those of which I am conscious – harkening back to formative years’ absences of acknowledgment and acceptance from those who mattered most; those lacks imparting wounds of the soul hard to heal – I have a heartfelt sensitivity to and an elephantine memory for slights and a spirit-deep capacity to bear a grudge. Interestingly to me, as I’ve aged (grown?), I find that I tend to harbor animus more, most against those who have harmed, rather than myself, those near and dear to me.

(Here, there is an inherent irony and an unpleasant truth. The loved one for whom I carry the blazing torch of retribution to right the wrongs committed against her/him may not – usually doesn’t – embody by character or embrace by choice a vengeful disposition. Hence, I, in wielding, without having been asked, the axe of reprisal for one who would not, am forced to face afresh the resident reality of mine own anger.)

Two days ago, on Thanksgiving Day, I stood face to face with one who, in my view, brought grave hurt to a dearest loved one and against whom I, through the nurturance, in my mental rehearsal of the rota of wrongs, had stoked the fire of my anger. In the instant of our meeting, after weeks, months since last sight, I noticed something different. An aging. A weakness of flesh. A brittleness of mind. A weariness of spirit. Equally instantly, I felt soul-searing sorrow and sympathy. Enough to do what I, by virtue of my faith in the One Who hath forgiven me, ought to have done weeks, months before. Forgive.

thank You, Lord

A personal reflection and prayerful meditation based on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12) on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017.

The Sermon of the Beatitudes (La sermon des béatitudes) (1886), James Tissot (1836-1902)

This day, O God, I give You all praise and thanks that, through (yea, only through) the prevailing power of Your Spirit, I, day by day, more and more, know myself to be:

Poor in spirit, accepting (finally!) all that I am – my strengths and weaknesses, my wealth and want – and, in my acceptance, believing, knowing that I am not (never!) in control, and believing, knowing that You are God and I am not (ever!).

Mournful. Not melancholy, bemoaning all things (though, You know, O God, that I am a practiced, even professional complainer!), but rather caring for others; even more, knowing how much and often that I, in my brokenness, grieve others; still more, knowing how much and often I need forgiveness.

Meek; not spineless, but courageous with righteous anger, O God, about all hatred and injustice that grieves Your Spirit.

Hungry and thirsty for righteousness; insatiably desiring right relationship with You, O God, and all others You have made, including myself.

Merciful; settling for no safe-distance-sympathy and suffering no passing-moment-pity, but rather being responsible, response-able to others, striving to see through their eyes, seeking to be as they are, even, especially those most unlike me.

Pure of heart; single in purpose; wanting, willing one thing: to see You, to know You, beholding Your ever-unfolding revelation of Your Self and the meaning of life – that of the world and mine.

Peacemaking; though taking no pleasure in the dis-ease of conflict, quailing not from engaging it; striving to understand all points of view, even, especially those with which I disagree; mindful of our common dignity as Your creations and our common destiny to dwell in Your peace that passeth our understanding or to destroy and die in our divisions…

(and knowing, believing, O God, Jesus’ teaching to be no multiple-choice, but rather an all-inclusive list; accepting, embracing the last and, for me, hardest of all)

Persecuted; willing to sacrifice my comfort and convenience, yea, my well-being for the sake of standing in commitment to You and Your kingdom.

For all this and more than I can know and name, on this Thanksgiving Day and day by day, in the words of a song, I: Thank You, Lord, I just want to thank You, Lord. Amen.

 

Illustration: The Sermon of the Beatitudes (La sermon des béatitudes) (1886), James Tissot (1836-1902)

truest thanksgiving

thinkinga personal reflection on an American holiday from a Christian perspective for Christian folk, based on John 6.25-35, on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish, feeding and filling 5000 famished bellies. The people, amazed by this miracle, perceive Jesus as a great prophet, like Moses, who they will compel to lead them in throwing off the shackles of their Roman oppressors. However, Jesus’ empire is not of the world, but of the Spirit, its methodology, not overpowering force, but unconditional love, its market, not self-interest, but justice, its manner, not avarice, but service. Jesus, recognizing the people’s misunderstanding and refusing their misdirected acclaim, withdraws in solitude and silence to the other side of the lake.[1] The people, still hungry for signs and wonders, pursue Jesus. Knowing they mistakenly have made physical sustenance the greatest good, Jesus challenges them to labor for “the food that endures for eternal life”. The people, barely comprehending that Jesus points to something spiritual (thus, beyond the material, yet, paradoxically, no less real), ask: “What must we do to perform the works of God?” In other words, how do we get this spiritual food? Jesus answers, “Believe in me.”

Belief. Not mere assent to an intellectual proposition that Jesus is Messiah or prophet or wise teacher or Lord or Savior (whatever any of these titles might mean), but rather an attitude arising from a relationship of trust, calling us to follow him…

verna-josephine-dozier-2-c-1995

One of my finest mentors, Verna Josephine Dozier wrote: “Jesus did not call us to worship him, but to follow him. Worship is setting Jesus on a pedestal…enshrining him in liturgies, stained glass…biblical translations…pilgrimages to places where he walked…Following him is doing what he did.”[2]

Thanksgiving Day. Historically, an annual occasion to express gratitude to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony persevere during the harsh winter of 1621. Later, for the harvest. Later still, for all the blessings of this life.

Today, looking through the lens of doing what Jesus did – loving unconditionally, acting justly, being of service – I see Thanksgiving Day as a yearly reminder that Christianity is an incarnational religion; at its heart, the ongoing, never-ending story of the Spirit of God’s love and justice taking flesh, yes, in Jesus and in his followers, and through his followers that Spirit being alive and active in this world.

I oft have said that Jesus would have a good reputation if not for the church. Through two millennia, the community of his disciples frequently wielding instruments of force, wedded to self-interest, and well-versed in materialism have strayed from his path.

In truest thanksgiving, I pledge anew, paraphrasing the song, to “follow Jesus more nearly, day by day.”[3] Again quoting my beloved sister, Verna: “The important question to ask is not, ‘What do we believe?’ but ‘What difference does it make that we believe?’ Does the world come nearer to the dream of God because of what we believe?”[4]

For me to answer humbly, honestly, “Yes!” is my thanks giving for bountiful blessings and, even more, my prayer that I, in my living, will be a thanksgiving, a blessing for the world.

 

Footnotes:

[1] See John 6.1-24.

[2] From The Dream of God, page 98 (my emphases), by Verna Josephine Dozier (1918-2006), retired District of Columbia public school teacher and administrator; theologian, biblical scholar, workshop leader, church consultant, and lay preacher; an advocate for the authority and ministry of the laity in religious communities; and, at the time of her death, a 50+ year member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, where I served as rector (1998-2015).

[3] Words by Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

[4] The Dream of God, page 105 (my emphases)

a (happy?) thanksgiving story

Thanksgiving Day. A national day of gratitude for the harvest and for the blessings of the preceding year.

The story of its origins is simple, for many details are unknown.

This simple story also is complex, involving people, their impulses, instincts, and interactions.

This simple and complex story is sacred, pointing to the honoring of the eternal bond between Creator and creature, creature and creature; a bond of justice and compassion.

This simple and complex sacred story also is profane, for it speaks of the breaking of that same bond.

Members of the English Separatist Church, a Puritan sect, escaping religious persecution, set sail aboard the Mayflower, landing at the promised land of Plymouth Rock, in what is now Massachusetts, in December 1620. That first winter was harsh. Many died. However, the harvest of 1621 was bountiful. The remaining colonists celebrated with a feast, inviting the Wampanoags, a coast-dwelling Native American people, who had helped the settlers survive their first year. This banquet, like a traditional English harvest festival, lasted three days! (Such a commemoration wasn’t strange to the Wampanoags who, in thanksgiving for their fellowship with the Creator and creation, annually observed six festivals!) This gathering of two very different peoples, expressing a friendship forged in suffering’s fire, had a sacred, sacramental element, being, to paraphrase The Catechism in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, an outward, visible sign of inward, spiritual grace.

It would be the happiest of all endings if, nearly 400 years later, we could read a story of lasting friendship. Sorrowfully, we cannot.

“A pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1.8). This Egyptian leader, without firsthand knowledge of the history of service of the Hebrews, thus without desire to address and assuage his mistrust and fear, enslaved the people. As elements of the human story often repeat, so it was that many new English colonists knew not the service of the Wampanoags. Fear grew. Intolerance spread. Friendship weakened. Within a generation or two, the children of those who feasted in thanksgiving in 1621 were killing one another in what came to be known as King Philip’s War. One result of that conflict was the enslavement and virtual destruction of a number of the tribes of native peoples and the opening of southern New England to unrestrained colonial expansion.

This simple and complex, sacred and profane thanksgiving story speaks of a friendship between diverse peoples that took root and flowered from the ground of shared experience. It also tells how fear and mistrust can break the bonds of the deepest fellowship.

In remembering this story, I pledge anew to strive daily to fulfill that eternal bond between Creator and creation, creature and creature; that bond of justice and compassion.