We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. [If we are] devoid of the power to forgive [we are] devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. -We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. [If we are] devoid of the power to forgive [we are] devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Forgiveness is a very tender subject. It brings up memories (good and bad), emotions (good and bad) and desires (good and bad) in most of us. Forgiveness can be a healing tool in your life – part of your sacred life’s journey…it’s the most powerful medicine we have access to in order to heal our often bruised or sore human hearts. It’s the most powerful medicine we have access to in order to strengthen and restore our wonderfully resilient and resourceful human hearts.
Since I started my personal journey into Seminary and my path toward Ministry, I’ve found more and more information on the work and the power of forgiveness. The work of forgiveness can restore your heart, it can strengthen your resolve, and it can also save your sanity. I believe that without forgiveness, you cannot be nearly as happy and peaceful as you COULD be.
Many of us have been through really hard times – in the distant past, the recent past, or perhaps just a few days ago. One of my hardest times was the loss of my father – though it was over 40 years ago, some days I feel it as if it was yesterday. One of my most recent hard times was the loss of someone I considered a mother figure – Mrs. Jacqueline Owens, our Norwich Branch NAACP President Emerita.
Contact with God, with Spirit, with Divinity is one of the lifelines I’ve held on to – those foundational things that help keep me sane and whole enough to keep moving through my life and to do more than live – to work on thriving. Getting through the tough times has helped me to learn that I am a lot stronger than anything that shows up in my life.
I am still processing all of the lessons these experiences gave to me. It was, and continues to be very hard work, and even now I will not claim that I am finished. Through forgiveness, I’ve learned that I have access to a level of grace – a supernatural love and yes, forgiveness, that represents a more powerful love than what any human could give me. It’s a love that never leaves me, nor forsakes me – it never gives up, and always heals when we allow it into our hearts.
You probably have a different, painful story that affected your life – maybe quite a few of them! They don’t have to be literal deaths in your circle or within your family – they could be difficult circumstances and an ending of a relationship that may feel like a death as your heart process the pain; it could be finding out that a hero or heroine of yours is all-too-human and not as perfect as you built them up in your mind to be – as when a favorite celebrity or public figure is called out on less-than-perfect behavior, or a less-than-positive aspect of their past comes to light. It can even be when you realize that something that might have hurt you to your heart in the past now rolls off your shoulders and your spirit in an easy way that makes you realize you’ve developed a hard “crust” and you’re just not as sensitive as you used to be…and you wonder what that means for your heart and your formerly tender spirit.
I want you to join me today at the beginning of a journey – a way to heal painful memories and find the spiritual treasure within each one – if you’re open to it. We can take steps to move toward healing, go further and deeper on our respective spiritual paths, and learn how to experience ecstatic, radical forgiveness – for ourselves and for others. Now that’s a pretty tall order – but hang in there with me – we’re going to go somewhere, and we’re going to start this journey together.
The kind of forgiveness I’m talking about is not the traditional model – it’s Heart Medicine. It involves opening yourself up and being ready to receive the healing experience of Divine contact. The Divine has many names, including the Holy Spirit, the Divine Mother, Father God, Mother Goddess, Great Spirit, Nature, or the “peace that passeth all understanding.”
Whenever I mention the word “Divine,” please substitute any name that resonates with you. The important thing for us to remember is the uniting, creative force of Love. Only this Love is real, and only Love has the power to heal and reunite us with our true nature.
I like to describe this forgiveness journey as a jump into the River of Love. In this first sermon of what I hope will be a three-sermon series, we’ll explore the theory that Life gives us varied and sometimes difficult experiences to show us that NO MATTER WHAT, the River of Love will bring us home to a deep well of inner security and serenity.
This journey of forgiveness can teach us to release pain and sadness, and find gratitude and even joy in the lessons we’ve learned. Now don’t let anyone (even me) fool you – this is not quick or easy work, but it’s SO worth it. Learning to find gratitude and joy in the lessons can give us joy and freedom, it can give us the confidence to know we never have to be isolated or lonely. The River of Love shows us that the edges to all things – my Graduate Advisor calls them “growing edges” – are friendly…if we can relax into the safety we share with the Divine.
In committing to follow the River of Love and to immerse ourselves in it on our path of freedom, we need to examine what forgiveness is, and what it is not.
In the traditional view of forgiveness, a common theme is that some kind of crime occurred. If there was no crime, there’d be no need to forgive, right? So, if you feel that forgiveness is what is next for you, you’ll need to find and separate the crimes in your life story from the other experiences. By crime, I mean any action committed by another person that seemed to cause you pain, sadness, anger, fear, or other emotion that you did not want to feel at the time. It could have been as large as an assault, an abandonment or murder, or as small as a nasty look, a sharp phrase or icy silence in the face of your vulnerability.
I said “seemed to cause you pain” because it is never the events that cause us pain, but rather how we interpret the situation, the response, or the lack of response. It is possible for one person to feel great anguish over something that wouldn’t even register on the radar of another person. Even dramatic acts perceived as negative or hurtful can have different effects on different people, depending upon what the people involved think about what happened.
Consider this: We have a choice about how we interpret situations and the intentions of other people. We can choose fear, anger and hurt…or we can choose love. If we choose fear, which is how we are programmed at just about every level of society, then we will assume – be entirely convinced – that an attack has occurred, and a crime must have taken place.
For example, crimes usually involve violence of some kind. This could be physical, emotional, verbal or energetic violence. Perhaps a situation occurred where someone crossed your personal boundary without permission, physically attacking you or hitting you with an emotional blow.
Probably, your first instinct was either to defend yourself, retaliate, or withdraw. Each of these instincts stems from a belief that the attack was real, and that you are an individual person with an individual body. This is how you live in the World of Humanity, the world of duality, where these “crimes” take place every day.
Once you are convinced that a crime occurred, the people involved automatically fit into pre-arranged roles. We as human beings have a group “agreement” for these roles, spanning all cultures and socio-economic levels around the globe. We call these roles “Victims” and “Perpetrators”.
In traditional forgiveness, we keep these roles – Victim and Perpetrator – intact and try our best to heal in the way we know how. We say to ourselves, “I’ll just let bygones be bygones.” Or, “I’ll let the passage of time heal my aching heart. It doesn’t feel so bad anymore. I’ve forgiven him/her.” Or, “They had such a terrible childhood, they couldn’t help themselves. I feel pity for them. I have forgiven.” Or even “They don’t realize what they did, it’s not such a big deal, I can forget about it and let it go”.
Here’s the challenge I bring to you: enlarging and changing the definition of forgiveness. Let’s change the narrative by throwing out the Victim and Perpetrator roles altogether…let’s make room to expand your thinking and feeling, include all beings as equal, and see all beings as eternal and holy.
By doing this, we can then start to experience a growing sense of peace that is not possible when we identify ourselves or others as Victims and Perpetrators. This peace is only available when we relax into the World of Divine Truth, where Grace envelops us all.
What’s the catch? We can’t just gloss over the knots of pain that we’ve made in our emotional bodies when those upsetting events occurred. We can take a very important stand in life. We can break the learned and historical pattern and say with conviction, “This pain stops with me.”
“To transform energies, we must experience them completely, working through them and forgiving them, which means seeing the perfection in them, however difficult that may seem.” — Colin Tipping, Radical Forgiveness: Making Room for the Miracle
Forgiveness is the inner work that we do to increase our experience of freedom. It brings us intentionally into the World of Divine Truth. In the World of Humanity, we need accountability, responsibility, justice, mediation, reconciliation, treatment programs, jails and prisons. This is the work of living together.
Almost all of us have wounds that need to heal. We can’t skip over the work that is needed to release this pain out of our minds, hearts and bodies. This is the blessing of forgiveness – it takes us from isolation, fear and pain all the way back home to Spirit, to Freedom – to the Divine.
Doing the inner work of forgiveness does not mean that you are not trying to fix yourself, another person, or a situation. You are not seeking justice to champion injustice. You are not a savior or a victim or a perpetrator – you are not bound by them, nor is anyone else.
What a relief!
You can learn to simply witness what you are carrying from the past, learn from it, and let it go. You can release the need to blame, shame or revenge upon anyone – including yourself. This release will open up passageways that were blocked, and all of the love and wisdom of the Divine will be accessible to you…now that you have finished your business of building grievances. The doorways, your inner meridians, will be open.
So why forgive? It’s hard work, and it takes time…so what are the benefits of forgiving someone?
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have recently become interested in studying the effects of forgiveness. Evidence is mounting that holding on to grudges and bitterness results in long-term health problems.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers numerous benefits, including:
- Lower blood pressure, heart rate, and risk of alcohol or substance abuse
- Reduction of Stress, depression and anxiety symptoms, and chronic pain
- Less hostility
- Better anger management skills
- Reduction in chronic pain
- More friendships and healthier relationships
- Greater religious / spiritual / psychological well-being
As we come to the end of this sermon, take some time to contemplate these questions as you begin your forgiveness process:
- How do you currently view forgiveness?
- What value can you see in learning to forgive?
- What do you want from forgiveness? What will you give to your process?
- Are you waiting to be forgiven? from whom?
- What emotions are rising in you as you meditate on these questions?
This Week’s Action Steps – the “Now What’ for this sermon:
Journal about what forgiveness means to you using one or more of the questions I asked earlier to help guide your journaling. Open your mind to radical forgiveness – could there indeed be treasures hiding within the situation you want to forgive and move through? Open yourself up to new possibilities and consider where the silver lining inside the challenging situations of your past or present might have been.
Returning to the words of Dr. King from the opening of the service:
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. [If we are] devoid of the power to forgive [we are] devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And yet, as Dr. King says, we have to understand that we, like everyone else, are always going to be a mix of good intentions and incomplete effort; good results and some things that don’t turn out that well; and yes, even good and evil.
We are sometimes selfish, sometimes we do harm, sometimes we cause pain and injustice – but until we can hold compassion for ourselves and others—until we can be forgiving when we fall short—our love is incomplete.