Friday, November 16, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Managing Polarities in Church Life

 I made this drawing while I was thinking about my sermon for Reformation Sunday. I was trying to make use of what I remember about "Polarity Management". It is normally challenging to preach on Reformation Sunday- how to give a glimpse of a fertile and volatile period in church history, that gave birth to so many important movements and theological tangents, without bashing the Roman Catholic Church as it now exists? How to highlight the importance of reforms that were achieved, without resting on the laurels of the past? How to remind myself, and the listeners, that we are part of a denomination that is not just Reformed, but reforming?

The drawing attempts to illustrate the tension that may exist between the extremes of  "Don't fix it, even if it seems broken", and "What do we believe/think/do this week?". Polarity management theory helps us to see that often, neither extreme position is the "correct" one. We can identify positives and negatives about preserving tradition, and about making progressive change.

The "infinity" symbol, or bow-tie like figure in the middle represents a pattern of movement. When the positive aspects of reform begin to be weighed down with negative effects, it may be time to follow the green arrows up and over to the positive aspects of valuing tradition. When the positive aspects of following tradition begin to be weighed down by the negative, it is time to move back into reform.

Can we manage this kind of polarity, or does the gathered community make the necessary shifts without being steered or guided? After more than 20 years in pastoral ministry, I am still not sure how this happens.

The value I find in looking at a tension as a polarity is that when we remember that there are positive and negative effects of both extremes, it is more difficult to demonize the people who seem to be my polar opposites.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wedding Sermon for Jacqueline Kalina and Markus Noach

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Darrow Woods. I serve as the minister at Trinity United Church, where Jacquie and Markus are both active members. When they asked me to be involved in today’s celebration, I was quite pleased, and honoured. I know this chapel, and Appleby College mean a lot to Jacquie and her family. I am grateful to Canon Lennox for his gracious hospitality, in inviting me to speak the sermon on this occasion.

Markus and Jacquie told me that this service is being live-streamed, by way of the internet, to viewers in many different places, who are not able to be with us in person, but who desire to share in the joy of this day. So I take a moment now to greet the people in the Czech Republic, and France, and Germany, and Greece, as well as California, Kentucky and Saskatchewan, who are with us in spirit.

Maybe we can get the people here to say hello. Can I ask the congregation to say, “Hello Live-streamers!”

Do you think they are answering back, with their own shouts out? I would like to think so. We can’t hear them, but we can perhaps feel their love, in the silence.

It actually seems very appropriate that these unseen, and un-heard friends are connected to us in this way, on this day. Last evening, Jacquie’s mother, Diane told me that there were many evenings during their long distance courtship, when Jacquie would be in her room in the family home here in Oakville, and Markus was in his room in Germany, and they would both be quietly studying, but they could see each other, and hear each other flipping pages, and scratching notes on paper, because they were connected by Skype. Through the wonders of technology, they could use their laptops, their wireless routers, the internet bandwidth, the phone lines, and probably more than one satellite or transatlantic cable, to be together, even though they were thousands of kilometres apart. (Just as we are connected to all those live-streamers out there!)

I love the idea of Jacquie and Markus being with each other that way. I wish this had been possible when my wife and I were dating 20 years ago. At that time, we lived in the same province, but about 6 highway hours apart. She was in a little town called Belmont, near Brandon, while I was in the Swan River Valley, on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. Those references will make sense to folks from the prairies.

What touched me most deeply about Diane’s description of Jacquie and Markus was that for most of the time, they would just be together in silence. There is something beautiful about this. It’s a good sign for their future that they can be content sitting together in silence. Think of the older couples you know, who have been married for decades, and do not always even need to speak. They already know- they know their beloved so deeply that the words are superfluous. The silence speaks for them. The silence is laden with love.

I am reading a book called, “In pursuit of silence: listening for meaning in a world of noise”, by a psychologist named George Prochnik. Prochnik believes, as many artists, and mystics, poets and lovers have proclaimed for centuries, that silence is necessary, and sustaining, nurturing and healing. Silence gives us space to be, to think, to grow, to love. Neuro-scientists have determined that our brains use moments of silence to prepare to receive and process new information. An implications of this is that as our lives are increasingly noisy, it becomes more and more difficult for us to actually think.

I have a friend who is both an Anglican priest and a jazz musician, and he says that without silence, there is no music. Silence makes rhythm possible. He also says this is evident in the story of the creation of the world. There was nothing, then God spoke, and there was something. A cosmologist might say there was total stillness, then there was a Big Bang. Nothing, then something. Silence then a word. In music, it is the spaces between the notes that make it possible for us to hear a song, rather than just endure a cacophonous noise.

The scriptures of many religious traditions describe the presence of God as breath, or spirit. Breath is life. We inhale. We pause. We exhale. Between the thousands and thousands of inhalations and exhalations of each day, there is a silent, resting pause. When I teach people to pray, I often begin by asking them to pay attention to the rhythm of their own breath.

The same rhythm governs the beating of our hearts, and the pulse of blood moving through our veins. The pause, the silence in between, makes the rhythm possible, just as breath makes life possible.

When I walked in this beautiful chapel yesterday for the rehearsal, I remembered how much it reminds me of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies. It was fun to think of walking in today wearing my robe, like one of the old wizards. The design of this chapel resembles the chapel at Mepkin Abbey where I like to go on silent retreat. It is a Trappist monastery in South Carolina, where most of the monks, most of the time, live in contemplative silence, except when they come to chapel, and sing and speak their prayers. They sit in choir stalls facing each other, the same set up as here. The monks believe God is always with them, but it is in the silence we quiet ourselves enough to listen beneath the clutter of our own lives, to hear God’s voice, and to know God’s love.

This makes me think of the words of one my favourite United Church hymns, called “Come and find the quiet centre”. The second verse says,

Silence is a friend who claims us,

                        cools the heat and slows the pace,

            God it is who speaks and names us,

                        knows our being, face to face,

            making space within our thinking,

                        lifting shades to show the sun,

            raising courage when we're shrinking,

                        finding scope for faith begun.

In just a few moments, a few heartbeats from now, Canon Lennox will lead Jacquie and Markus through their wedding vows. Beneath the ancient words of promising, and joining, and blessing, there will be, for them, and for us, a sacred silence, that God will fill with presence. God is with us, and just as our hearts beat to move blood through our bodies, God’s spirit breathes life, and love into this moment, and all the moments of our lives.

There is a language deeper than words. We heard about it in the scripture from First Corinthians, that Janet read in English, and Andrea offered in German. Beneath the tongues of angels and of humans that Saint Paul was talking about, is the language of love. The love that underlies all things, and is perhaps easiest for us to know in silence, comes from God. We might even say that love does not just come from God, it is God. The love that flows like a quiet breath from the maker of all things, that gives us life, and fills our hearts, is God at work.

We can see God at work, here and now, in the lives of Jacquie and Markus, who have already learned to sit together in silence. Thanks be to God. Amen

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spiritual Well-Being

I think that when people make the effort to come to worship in the summer time, it is good to match that effort, by trying to offer something special. Here is the announcement that appeared in our congregation's bulletins and newsletter, leading up to the month of July:

There will be a 5 part Teaching Series in July called “Spiritual Well-Being”. Each Sunday, Rev. Darrow, who is a certified spiritual director and experienced retreat leader, will offer a teaching time about a spiritual practice that can enrich our lives, and deepen our awareness of God’s presence.

July 1: Opening ourselves to the Holy through sacrament and silence.

July 8: Breath and the movement of our bodies can be prayer.

July 15: The practice of Centering Prayer.

July 22: Growing in awareness of God present and at work within us, through Lectio Divina.

July 29: Walking the labyrinth as spiritual exercise.

Each of these teaching times can stand alone, so don’t worry if you cannot be at church every Sunday in July.

These special services might be the perfect occasion to invite someone who thinks of themselves as “spiritual, but not really religious”.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hands On

Last Saturday evening, I sat with my family, and some long-time friends, in a large meeting room at a retreat centre in Port Elgin, on the shore of Lake Huron. The room had been transformed into a worship space. There were hundreds of people there, many from United Church congregations from the 6 regions within our Hamilton Conference, which stretches as far south as Niagara Falls, and as far north as Tobermory. The occasion was the Celebration of Ministry service, at which 6 people were ordained to serve as ministers in the United Church, and one minister was welcomed from another denomination. We sat near the back, and watched as the room filled. I can usually distinguish the regular crowd from the guests, who may be relatives, or church friends of the people being ordained. They are often better-dressed, and they seem to glow a bit with love and pride, anticipating what is about to happen.

I have been to more than 20 of these services, including one where I was ordained, which took place in a hockey arena in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, in May of 1990. Each time I attend, I am reminded of that day. When I hear the candidates answering the formal questions, and making their promises, I silently re-affirm my own vows. It is an encouraging, and re-focusing moment.

There was a married couple being ordained this night, with 2 children close to the ages of our kids. Joel and Naomi spent the weekend with these kids, who are named Andrew and Naomi. So they had a big Naomi, and a little Naomi in the program for children and young teens. I found it quite emotional to be sitting with my family, while we witnessed these parents making their promises of faithful service to God and God’s people.

When a candidate is ordained, they are allowed to choose some of the people who will lay a hand on them, for the blessing and ordination. You can see what that looks like in this photo from an ordination service from a few years ago.  The person being ordained kneels, and is surrounded by people who each place a hand on them. Some of those hands belong to official representatives of the United Church. But each candidate also chooses people who are important in their lives, and in their faith journey, to take part.

When the married couple were each ordained, they chose to have both of their kids take part, by laying hands on them. It seemed a powerful acknowledgement that God is at work in our lives through the people closest to us. It also seemed right to involve their children in this next step in a process that has already changed their lives, and will continue to do so. Lynda and Gordon and their children, Andrew and Naomi,  will be moving to rural Newfoundland this summer, to begin a new adventure in a community very different from the one they have known.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Thoughts about Giving, Part 1

Does it worry you when you see the minister is going to talk about giving? Does it worry you even more when you see the title is “Thoughts about giving, Part 1”? How many parts are there going to be? Is he going to tell me that I need to give more to the church? Is he going to try to manipulate, or guilt me into something?

I plan to talk on this subject 2 more times. I am reluctant to tell you when, because you might not come to church on those days.!

I am not going to try to manipulate you, or guilt you into giving more to the church. Even if I thought it might work I would not do that. I would see that as an abuse of the power of what we do here together. Our worship services are meant to gather us together around the sense that God is with us. We are here as a faith community to quiet ourselves enough to sense God’s presence, and to hear and see what God has for us, and how we are to respond to God.

It all begins with God, and what God gives to us. God gives us all that we really need to live. So much of what God gives, comes to us freely, with no strings, or obligations, or price tags attached. My wife and I went for a long after supper walk last evening. The sky was a shining robin’s egg blue. There were clouds cutting puffy furrows across the sky. The contrast of blue sky and white cloud was dazzling. We walked streets in the neighbourhood around our home, and saw purple, and pink, and white lilacs, and tulip trees in full glory. We saw other trees budding and leafing out. There were people out walking, and talking. There were kids at play in the park. There is so much that is good.

We live in a society in which everything is turned into a commodity - packaged to be sold as a product. We humans can manage the land, and decide what grows where, and we can build fences and barriers to limit access to different areas. We can convince ourselves that we are creators, or controllers, of the world around us. But the truth is that we did not make any of it. This world, and its beauty, and the life that persists and thrives, often in spite of our human activities- all of it is this amazing generous gift from God. The fact that we breathe, and live, and move, and can see and appreciate all that is, the gift of life itself- comes from God.

Seeing how amazing this world is, and remembering it is all a gift from God, is a good place to begin when thinking about giving. We have really have nothing to give, that did not first originate in God’s gifts to us.

How incredible it is that God gives everything so freely. Part of my role as your minister is to somehow represent God’s grace, and God’s generosity. But there is no danger that you would ever mistake me for God. I am clearly not as free and generous with my love as God.

Having cleared that up, this morning I want to do something totally out of the box. What I am about to do is my doing. I do not have the permission of the worship committee, or the church council, or anybody- because they do not actually know what I am about to do.

What I have here in this box is enough loonies for all of you. Everybody gets one. I wish it could be a toonie, or a ten dollar bill, or something even bigger- but this is what I am able to do!

(Wait until everyone has one.)

You can tell that I am not God, for lots of reasons. Today especially you can tell that because there are limits to my generosity. I decided that my limit for today was that I could give everybody here only a dollar.

But there you have it. A totally free gift. No strings. It is yours. A reminder of the generous God who gives us all so much more than money.

Each of us is able to give of ourselves, because of all that God gives us. When we give our time, our attention, our love, our work, our loyalty, our friendship, our compassion, our patience, and yes, even our money- we are able to do our giving, because of all that God has freely given us.

How does it feel to have that free looney in your hand? I know it is not much, but please accept it as a symbol of all that God gives us every day. Later in the service, we will share the bread and cup of communion, and be reminded that these are sacramental symbols, of all that God offers and gives us through Jesus.

When we practice giving of ourselves, what we give can be like a sacramental symbol of God’s love. It can be a celebration of all that God has given us.

When we give, it can be an act of worship, of gratitude to God. It can also be an act of rebellion, against the forces in the world that would have us believe that selling is better than giving, and buying better than receiving.

I prayed about this out of the box thing we are doing here today. I prayed that I could feel free and joyful, and generous, as I handed out money. (Please know that this is money from the coin can in my house, and is not coming from the church. My wife knows what I am doing today.)

In the Jewish religion it is taught that giving is a relationship between God, the receiver, and the giver, in that order of importance. You can’t really be a giver, unless there is someone to receive. And without God, there would be nothing to give or receive in the first place.

The act of giving can be transformative. When I give something away, the very act allows me to embody God’s generosity, and follow God’s command to give.  Jews and Christians call that “imitatio deo”, the imitation of God. The same idea is expressed in Islam as “taking on the qualities of God”.

One of the ways churches, and synagogues, mosques, and temples, and other places of worship help the faithful, is to give them a way to channel their generosity, in ways that can also be effective at doing good in the world. Jews call this righteous giving, and it is meant to show devotion to God. There are similar concepts in Islam.

It seems to me that in Christian churches, the idea of righteous giving- giving because it helps us be better, more God-like people as we practice generosity, gets lost in all the anxiety over meeting a budget, or paying the bills.

We lose track of something very important when we reduce the notion of giving to meeting a budget. In our lives of faith, and God’s work in us, and in the world, giving is not only about keeping the church going.  We have mostly moved away from giving as a spiritual practice that is good for us, and fallen into the habit of seeing giving as an obligation- something we would rather not do, but do grudgingly, if absolutely necessary.

The other problem with making that strong connection between what is needed to run the church and its programs, and what we give- is that it actually sets a limit on how generous we should be.

God does not set limits on how blue the sky is, or the brilliance of the pink and purple and white lilacs that are in bloom this week.  God does not hold back on beauty, giving us only enough to get by on. God just gives, and gives, and gives. Amen

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I recently returned from a conference held outside Boston, Massachussetts, entitled "Cultivating Compassion". It was a gathering arranged by Spiritual Directors International. There were spiritual directors, and others interested in the life of prayer, from many different faith traditions, and from many places around the world.

One of my learnings at the conference, which I have been been making an effort to put into practice in my daily life, comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The Youtube clip I have inserted above is of Pema Chodron a teacher from Nova Scotia, who explains the practice very well.

It is called Tong Lin. As I understand it, Tong Lin is a kind of prayer that is meant to cultivate compassion within us, by increasing our awareness of the suffering of others.

In the last few days, when I have found myself in a conversation, or situation, in which I knew that the other person was suffering some hardship, or difficulty, or sadness, as I have listened to them, I have also been doing this practice.

As I breathe in, I have imagined myself accepting their pain and suffering. (I tell myself that I am passing this suffering on to God, who is the source of all compassion and comfort and healing.)

As I breathe out, I do so with the intention to direct love, and peace towards the person I am with. My understanding is that the Spirit of God is like an endless stream of love, that desires to flow through each of us, out towards others.

I cannot speak to the effect this has on the other person. My hope and prayer is that they feel relief, and feel heard, and loved.

What I can say is that this prayerful practice seems to soften me from the inside, and open my awareness of the condition of the people I am with.

When this practice was being taught at the conference, I was wondering about how to connect it to the idea of Jesus' self-giving, and his willingness to participate in, and take on the sufferings of the world. I wonder if this kind of practice can help me better understand what it might mean for me to "take up my cross" as a follower of Jesus.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Don't pull too hard or something will snap

The Desert Fathers and Mothers lived near Scete, on the banks of the Nile, in Egypt, in the 4th and 5th centuries. Around the time that Christianity was gaining prominence as an official religion in the Roman Empire, people were heading out into the desert, to live in caves, and practice solitude. There is a collection of wisdom and stories from that time called “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers” even though history is clear that women were also attracted to the developing monastic life.

One of the “Desert Fathers” who spoke about silence, a man called Abba Antony said, “The person who abides in solitude and is quiet, is delivered from fighting three battles- those of hearing, speech, and sight. Then they will have but one battle to fight- the battle of the heart.”

There are lots of sayings by Antony, and also stories about him. One day he was out in a field with some of the younger monks in training. They were telling him about their dreams, and asking for help in understanding them. The conversation was quite lively.  In the midst of all of this, a hunter came out of the nearby brush, and showed his displeasure- he seemed to feel like the monks should be acting more holy, and having less fun.  He may have thought they should be silent all the time.
Antony responded to the hunter’s displeasure by asking him to take up his bow, and place an arrow in it, and draw it. The hunter did so. Antony said, ”Draw it further:” and he drew it. He said again, “Draw it yet further:” and he drew it. The hunter said to him, “If I draw it too far, the bow will snap.”

Abba Antony answered: “So it is with God’s work. If we go to excess the brothers quickly become exhausted. It is sometimes best not to be rigid.”

The hunter was penitent when he heard this, and profited much from it. And the brothers, thus strengthened, went home.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Surprised by surprise

The parables of Jesus are invitations to view our reality, and to relate to the world we live in, in a new way. I should not be surprised that I end up being surprised when I spend time with these holy and subversive stories. They are dangerous because they undermine conventional thinking, and inspire dis-ease- a lessened sense of ease with the way things are.

A week ago I preached on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What I took away from my prayer and study around that story is that "who is my neighbour?" is actually the wrong question. (At least when  asked in a legalistic, help me define the limits of my responsibility for others, kind of way.) Questions more faithful to the way of Jesus might be, " How do I be a real neighbour? " "How can I live with compassion?"

This past week I worked with the Parable of the Prodigal. I began with the idea that I would use the story of the younger son to talk about what classical Christian spirituality called the Threefold Path. In our journey towards God, there are three aspects: Purgation, Illumination, and Union.

Purgation is overcoming the distractions and compulsions of the world, by becoming aware of their hold on us, and developing a disciplined life so that we are not bound by them. (The Prodigal Son spends his inheritance on riotous living, and is left with nothing to show for it. He ends up doing hard labour on a pig farm, and longing for the comforts of his family home.)

Illumination is the beginning of our consciousness that there is more to life than we once thought. It is as if we are waking up to the spiritual depth and meaning present in everything. (The Parable says the younger son "came to his senses". He decided to seek his father's forgiveness, saying that he had sinned against his father, and against heaven.)

Union, also called contemplation, or mystical prayer, is the gift of God's presence with us. (The father rushes out to meet his prodigal son on the road, and the parable describes the joy of a great celebration.)

My difficulty with re-telling the parable in terms of Purgation, Illumination, and Union was that when I read the story, it did not seem to me that the younger son had done enough in the Purgation phase, to warrant his Union, or Re-Union, with the God-figure in the story, his father.

I took my sermon in another direction, about the father's loving acceptance and grace towards both of the sons, because I recognized within myself that like the older brother, I still wanted to judge the prodigal. He didn't deserve (at least, not yet!) the forgiveness, love, and acceptance of the father.

That was the surprise for me this week. The whole point of the parable is that grace, love, forgiveness, when given freely, purely, by God, are absolutely unearned. And God offers them anyway.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Origin Stories"

A baby is lovingly placed by his father in a cozy niche, within a capsule that is about to be propelled into space by a powerful rocket. The father is a scientist who had predicted his home planet was unstable, and would soon explode. The planet’s rulers had ignored the scientist’s dire warnings. The planet was doomed. There was no longer time to save its people from destruction. All the scientist could do was to send his son to a safe place. For years he had been observing a distant planet. The scientist believed that on this planet, bathed in light from its bright yellow star, his son would have amazing powers. The infant would be safe, and could grow to maturity. He could use his powers to protect the people of his adopted planet.

Even as mountains crumbled and seas frothed violently, and a quake caused the ceiling above the baby’s rocket to crack open, the scientist father remained focussed on his task. He kissed his baby, and whispered a blessing. The capsule closed, and the rocket was launched. The last survivor of the planet Krypton was headed to Earth.

That’s the “origin” of Superman. Comic book creators often craft an origin story to explain how the hero gained their powers. They also use the origin story to provide insight into their hero’s motivation.

The origin is an important part of the myth. It provides a pretext for the reader to suspend their disbelief, and enter into the fantasy. If the reader can’t do that, they won’t enjoy the story.

Origin stories have also had a function in religion. Preachers and teachers have used stories of wonder and magic to bolster their claims. It seems to me that in the case of Christianity, we have tended to look back to the time of the first followers of Jesus, and the first few generations of the church, as a time when God was more “hands on” with people.

There is a tendency to suggest, or even come right out and say, that God guided the minds and hands of the human writers of scripture, so that the end product would be perfect. All the claims that the Bible as we know it is “God’s Word, exactly” depend on the “origin” story that God dictated the script to these holy secretaries.

I think I understand why this has happened. People like to be right about things. We want to know that we are on track with God. A confident preacher that can tell us (usually in a booming voice) precisely what God requires can win a huge following. But how does the preacher know? What makes their religious claims any more valid than the preacher down the road, or on a different tv channel? The preacher needs a source for their “rightness”, their moral authority. That’s where the “origin” story of the Bible comes in.

But that “origin” story is just that, a story. It has no basis in fact. More than that, it demeans us, puts us down, in an insidious way. The underlying message of the story is that in the past, God spoke directly to people, but in our time, the only way to know God is through the Bible. This elevates the Bible from being a book, to being something we worship. It suggests that people in our time are not holy, or faithful enough to have the kind of relationship with God that early Christians had, even before the Bible existed.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

An Epiphany Thought

            In the early Christian church, there were two major festivals. Easter was celebrated every time Christians gathered on the Sabbath. The other major festival was Epiphany. I find that this year, I am relishing this season of light, and finding great hope and meaning in the story of the magi. Part of the reason for this is that I have written, with two able collaborators (my kids!) a short puppet play that tells the story of three Hogwarts students who follow a certain star. It will be performed at Trinity on January 29.

            The Epiphany story is also a natural choice for anyone interested in contemplative prayer and the ministry of spiritual direction. I love the following quote from an article by Wilkie Au, from the Review for Religious, in 1989:

God is to be enjoyed not only at the end of the search, but all along the way. The Christmas story of the magi illustrates this truth. God was present to them not only when they joyfully arrived at the cave in Bethlehem, but also in the original stirrings that sent them off in search of the promised Messiah. God’s presence was also experienced in a guiding star that directed them through dark nights and in a dream that warned them of Herod’s threat. They experienced God’s support, too, in the encouragement they gave each other throughout an uncharted search that took them miles from home. God is more present to us than we think.

Our search for union with God is life-long, often a strenuous trek punctuated by dark passages. If we are to persevere, we must take courage in God’s abiding presence all along the way.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

For-GIVE-ness is a gift from God

What I have seen, in my own life, and in the lives of people I love, is that when we feel guilt and regret over things we have done, or things we believe about ourselves are dragging us down, we look for the worst in others, and for reasons to judge others- not necessarily to condemn them, but as a way to not feel so bad about ourselves.

Forgiveness for sin is the way the church has traditionally talked about the problem, but I think the more looming question is how do we accept ourselves, faults and history and all? If we can find the way to self-acceptance, maybe we can be more loving, and accepting, and forgiving of others.
Any resource, any program that can help people move forward in the vital task of self-acceptance, and towards regarding ourselves with even a fraction of the love that God has for us, is worth a look.
One of the most profound books on the shelves in my study is called "The Spirituality of Imperfection: Modern Wisdom from Classic Stories", by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. I originally bought it because it contains over 100 stories drawn from ancient spiritual traditions. I thought it would be a treasure trove for sermon illustrations, and for years, I did not really read the book, I dug through it, seeking gems that would add lustre to my preaching efforts.

I actually owned this book for almost 20 years before I realized why "The Spirituality of Imperfection" contains all those great stories. It is because the purpose of the book is to show that Alcoholics Anonymous is a contemporary embodiment of many aspects of those ancient spiritual traditions.
When I began to read the book rather than just browse it, I discovered that the stories are not the only treasures within its pages. There is a lot in this book on the topic of forgiveness:
"The main spiritual shift that takes place in the event of being forgiven/forgiving is thus a new experience of self; blaming others falls away, and we begin to accept primary responsibility for who we are. Forgiveness comes when we let go of the feeling of resentment by surrendering the vision of self-as-victim. If we have been injured, we no longer experience the injury as a barrier to relationship. Instead, we see the injury in the perspective of our own imperfection: how can we expect anyone else to be perfect if we ourselves are imperfect? Within that understanding comes the profound realization that that we have been forgiven for our own imperfections. And then there follows, in time, a second and equally profound internal transformation: we understand that we have already forgiven others.
Thus it is that we do not forgive; instead, we discover forgiveness in both its forms- both that we have been forgiven and that we have forgiven. Spirituality's mutuality holds true here as everywhere: 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."(page 222)
There is a reminder here that forgiveness is a grace, a gift that comes to us from God, and is meant to flow through us:
"we are capable of forgiveness only if we are acted on by some reality outside of, beyond, and in some way greater than ourselves." (page 223)