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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)