Journey Group Packet
Love, Understanding, and Forgiveness
We need to receive forgiveness, and we need to give it. As Reinhold Niebuhr said, “No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own. Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.” (in our hymnal, #461)
We need to receive forgiveness because sometimes we find out that our actions, which seemed to us perfectly reasonable, perhaps even virtuous, have hurt someone. We need to forgive others for the same reason: because we aren’t as virtuous as we think we are.
When we care about maintaining relationship, that’s love – or, at least, the beginning of it. In our need for other people is the seed of love. Love, says Niebuhr, takes its final form in forgiveness: that willingness to put restoration of relationship above the calculus of punishment and justice – to put relationship above receiving our due.
Forgiveness depends crucially upon understanding. To illustrate, put yourself in this scenario:
You’ve been grocery shopping. Now you’ve gotta get the groceries home and put away. You’re under some time pressure because you have an appointment coming up. You get to your apartment building, but the parking places on that side of the street are taken, so you have to park across the street. At the grocery store, you had asked for paper rather than plastic, and what you’ve got are three brimming-full paper grocery bags. You decide you need to do this in one trip, so you scoop up all three bags. Your field of vision is now somewhat limited. You wait for the light to change. You know it says “walk” for only a few seconds before it goes into its warning blink, and that stopped cars are ready to proceed the instant the light changes back. You’re making your way across the street, when some clod walking by the other direction bumps into you. Your groceries spill in the middle of the street. Your body floods with that anger reaction. Blood pressure up, you see red. You spin around, clutching the one bag of groceries that didn’t spill, and the angry, loud words that are already starting to come out of your mouth are definitely not words you would want your children to hear. In that moment you see . . . the white cane. The anger just drains right away as you see the truth of the situation with clarity.When the injured truly understands the offender -- where she was coming from and why she did what she did -- forgiveness naturally follows. Sometimes, though, a person can cling to grievance believing that they could (or do) completely understand the offender, and still find the offense unforgivable.
Forgiveness can happen without reconciliation. But when we find ourselves otherwise unable to forgive, working toward reconciliation – commitment to a process of restitution – can help.
(from Communitarian, 2014 November)
(from Communitarian, 2014 November)
On small matters, forgiveness can be a casual matter: as easy as saying the words, “I forgive you.” Some wounds go deeper, though, and the healing is not so easy. The road to forgiveness is sometimes harrowing, soul wrenching -- about the hardest thing a person can do.
Forgiving is fore-giving: giving what was before. To forgive is to give back the relationship as it was before. When the fabric of relationship is ripped through, restoration requires more than brief words of apology and forgiveness.
There are ways that forgiveness goes wrong. First, we might think it is done when it has only begun. Second, forgiveness goes wrong when the forgiver comes off as superior – magnanimous in being willing to forgive. Rather than return the parties to equality, it maintains a reversed inequality. That can happen when we don’t seek a more extended reconciliation process. Third, forgiveness goes wrong when it is expected or demanded. When we “should” ourselves or others into “forgiving,” the longer process that could lead to a deeper restoration is derailed. Forgiveness goes awry, for example, when a battered woman is told she “should forgive” her husband and take him back – without any reliable commitment on his part. Fourth, things have gone wrong when we give up on the possibility of forgiveness at all. This is the flip side of expecting or demanding it or treating it as if it were an easy and momentary thing to do. Once we see that forgiveness isn't simple and instantaneous, we might go the other direction and give up on it entirely. Don't demand it or expect it -- but please don't give up on forgiveness either.
The grace of forgiveness – the grace of being able to forgive, and the grace of coming to be forgiven – can, if not short-circuited, have a power to raise new life from a kind of death. It can break through the usual demands of retributive justice.
The first step is for the injured to be able to say that they’ve been hurt and how. Sometimes we aren’t ready to get, don’t want to get, don’t need to get, to forgiveness. Just the first step of speaking the pain helps prepare a person to get on with life. Second, having named our pain, grieve it. If we don’t grieve, we are much more likely to pass on the very same injury to others. Last comes letting it go -- which you can’t make yourself do, and you certainly can’t make anyone else let something go. You can only open yourself to inviting the release to come. Letting go – if it happens -- releases the transgressor from the punishment he would deserve for his violation.
“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know,” as Blaise Pascal said. The path to forgiveness entails delving into the matters of the heart.
The Spiritual Exercise
The focus of this month’s exercise is self-forgiveness – which, in its fullest realization, includes outward changes and a new relationship to the world.
Consider this example, from the 1982 film Gandhi:
Violent rioting has broken out. Muslim and Hindu mobs are attacking and killing each other all over India. Gandhi goes on a hunger strike – refusing to eat until the violence stops. In the film, we see Gandhi weak and in bed from fasting. Leaders of the fighting factions come in, throw down their swords and promise they will fight no more. One man then pushes through and flings bread on Gandhi.
Man: Eat! I'm going to Hell! But not with your death on my soul.The man is astounded. Then his stunned expression seems to turn from disbelief to wonder. He turns to go. Stops. Turns back to Gandhi. Gets on his knees and bows to the ground. (See video at the bottom of this post.)
Gandhi: Only God decides who goes to hell.
Man: I killed a child! I smashed his head against a wall.
Man: They killed my son. My boy. [Holds out his hand at waist level to indicate the boy’s height.] The Muslims killed my son!
Gandhi: I know a way out of Hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed – a little boy about this high [holds out hand to indicate the same height the man had indicated] -- and raise him as your own. Only be sure that he is a Muslim and that you raise him as one.
This month’s exercise asks you to be creative and imagine – for in imagination we give ourselves the preparation for life. Write (in your journal or separately) a fictional scenario of a person who has done something horrible – as the man who confronted Gandhi had done. If you can, choose an act that you can imagine yourself having done (at an earlier stage in your life, perhaps, -- if circumstances had pushed you to it). Imagine her/his process of restitution (perhaps assigned by a wise woman or man, as in the above example, or perhaps otherwise determined). As your time for this exercise allows, go into detail about how the restitution and self-forgiveness process unfolds – its ups and downs. What does the self-forgiveness arrived at look and feel like? How is the person changed?
Bring your story to your journey group, prepared to share it – in whole or in synopsis.
Questions to Live With
As always, don’t treat these questions like “homework.” You do not need to engage every single one. Instead, simply look them over and find the one that “hooks” you most. Then let it take you on a ride. Live with it for a while. Allow it to regularly break into – and break open – your ordinary thoughts. And then come to your Journey Group meeting prepared to share that journey with your group.
1. When the person to whom we would like to apologize is unavailable (e.g., has died, or is unreachable) can we forgive ourselves? What does it take to release ourselves from guilt and recrimination?
2. When the person we would like to forgive is unavailable (has died, or is unreachable) what can we do?
3. What wrongs against you would you regard as “unforgivable” – no matter what sincere contrition and commitment to restitution the offender may demonstrate?
4. In what ways might praying for forgiveness be helpful and a good idea?
5. Concerning self-forgiveness, Daniel Woo offers this meditation: “I am a human being who has made mistakes. I am not perfect. I forgive myself today. Today I will do my best, imperfectly. I am forgiven and I will love myself today. I am a good, worthy human being. The sun shines each day no matter what happened yesterday. I forgive myself for all my yesterdays. I have an inner light that shines on me today.” Do you think this sort of meditation would be helpful? Why or why not?
6 Is it appropriate for self-forgiveness to be more difficult than forgiving others? Why?
7. Forgiveness is in part about healing relationships. But what do we do when we do not have a willing partner in the healing process?
8. When we are wronged, it’s normal to be angry and hurt, to rehearse the narrative in our minds. We give over our personal power to the individual who hurt us, continuing to let their past actions dominate our present experience. In such a case, forgiveness is liberating, for in letting go of the grievance, it loses its power over us. What does it take to be able to forgive and let go in this way?
9. In the absence of an apology from the offender, the injured, in some cases, nevertheless forgives. So what is the role or importance of apology?
10. Can temporarily withholding forgiveness sometimes be a wise and caring choice? When?
11. What is the role or importance of group-to-group apology/forgiveness (e.g., the US apologizing for slavery). Is this importantly different from person-to-person apology/forgiveness?
12. Who do you need to forgive in your life?
13. From whom do you need to seek forgiveness?
To err is human; to forgive, divine. -- Alexander Pope
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is 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. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
If I say, 'I forgive you,' I have implicitly said you have done something wrong to me. But what forgiveness is at its heart is both saying that justice has been violated and not letting that violation count against the offender. -- Miroslav Volf
When I am able to resist the temptation to judge others, I can see them as teachers of forgiveness in my life, reminding me that I can only have peace of mind when I forgive rather than judge. -- Gerald Jampolsky
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. -- Mahatma Gandhi
One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody everything everynight before you go to bed. -- Bernard Baruch
Holding on to anger, resentment and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. Forgiveness gives you back the laughter and the lightness in your life. -- Joan Lunden
I learned a long time ago that some people would rather die than forgive. It's a strange truth, but forgiveness is a painful and difficult process. It's not something that happens overnight. It's an evolution of the heart. -- Sue Monk Kidd
It's not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you. -- Tyler Perry
How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all. -- Clarissa Pinkola Estes
You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well. -- Lewis B. Smedes
The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget. -- Thomas Szasz
It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. -- William Blake
As we know, forgiveness of oneself is the hardest of all the forgivenesses. -- Joan Baez
One important theme is the extent to which one can ever correct an error, especially outside any frame of religious forgiveness. All of us have done something we regret - how we manage to remove that from our conscience, or whether that's even possible, interested me. -- Ian McEwan
Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them. -- Bruce Lee
Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. -- Corrie Ten Boom
Many promising reconciliations have broken down because while both parties come prepared to forgive, neither party come prepared to be forgiven. -- Charles Williams
To confer dignity, forgive. To express contempt, forget. -- Mason Cooley When you are happy you can forgive a great deal. -- Princess Diana
God forgive you, but I never can. -- Elizabeth I
God will forgive me. It's his job. -- Heinrich Heine
If I owe Smith ten dollars and God forgives me, that doesn't pay Smith. -- Robert Green Ingersoll
When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me. -- Emo Philips
From World Scripture
From the Quran:
Make allowances for people, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant. (Surat Al-A‘raf, 199)Jesus’ Words on Forgiveness, from the Gospels (NRSV):
The repayment of a bad action is one equivalent to it. But if someone pardons and puts things right, his reward is with Allah. Certainly He does not love wrongdoers. (Surat Ash-Shura, 40)
It is a mercy from Allah that you were gentle with them. If you had been rough or hard of heart, they would have scattered from around you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them, and consult with them about the matter. Then when you have reached a firm decision, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who put their trust in Him. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 159)
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)From Paul’s Epistles (NRSV):
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
“Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18: 21-22)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)
“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13)Perry's Family Page
“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
“But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Corinthians 2:5-8)
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4 – 6)
by Perry Montrose, Director of Lifespan Religious Education and Faith Development
Children are often told, “Say you’re sorry.” The offended person is expected to accept the apology and “forgive.” Sometimes the words are meant sincerely and felt by the other person; sometimes they are not, but there is still the expectation to forget the offense. However, true forgiveness is an internal process that relates more to a shift in perspective than a relationship outcome. If we can help children accept human fallibility and process the hurt they have felt or witnessed in another person, then they develop a deeper emotional intelligence and life-changing tool.
The lesson on forgiveness in the Unitarian Universalist Religious Education curriculum Moral Tales, which the CUC fourth-grade class is using this year, begins by asking the children to think about acts of goodness that they and others have done. The children are then asked to name the virtues behind the acts, e.g., generosity, courage, honesty. Before they think about what it means to forgive themselves and others for hurts that have occurred, they need to be holding the sense of goodness that exists in all of us. In order to process hurts in a healthy way, we need to remember that goodness abounds and we hold virtues within us, despite our foibles.
The session then focuses on an old Middle-eastern story about two friends who travel together. The friend who is slapped by the other in an argument writes the hurt in sand and it is blown away by the winds of forgiveness. The same friend is then saved from drowning by the friend who had slapped him. He etches that act in stone and when asked about the difference replies, "When someone hurts us, we should write it down in sand where the winds of forgiveness can erase it away. This way our hearts are free from bitterness, and we can renew our friendships. But, when someone does something kind for us, we must engrave it in stone and in our hearts so that we will never forget.”
The curriculum tells the children that
the act of forgiveness is one of the most important choices we can make. Forgiveness can help us keep our relationships with others. It can help us have hearts full of love rather than bitterness.It is pointed out that the word forgiving is made up of “for” and “giving.”
Forgiveness means giving kindness, empathy, and love to another person, even if they have hurt us. When we are angry at ourselves and forgive ourselves, we are giving kindness, empathy, and love to ourselves.It is stressed to the children that this does not mean we forget the hurtful act or excuse it. The interaction may still affect the choices we make, e.g., not lending a personal possession to someone who has destroyed one, but we make efforts to let go of the resentment.
Similarly, psychological studies on forgiveness have defined it as a
freely made choice to give up revenge, resentment, or harsh judgments toward a person who caused a hurt, and to strive to respond with generosity, compassion, and kindness toward that person. It is a process that involves reducing negative responses and increasing positive responses toward the person who caused the hurt, across the realms of affect, cognition, and behavior. Importantly, forgiveness is not condoning, excusing, denying, minimizing, or forgetting the wrong. It can occur without reconciliation, which requires the participation of both parties, if the person who caused the hurt is absent, deceased, or remains unsafe.Forgiving is not forgetting, but it is changing our perspective toward the incident. The key is that forgiveness is an internal process that helps us shift how we feel and determines our relationship to ourselves, as well as others. It may or may not change the interaction with the person who caused the hurt or who we hurt, but it changes the way we move forward on our life paths. The studies have shown that this choice of forgiveness directly affects health outcomes and mortality rates.
In teaching our children what it means to forgive, we are empowering them with a tool that will positively affect their health and their ability to relate to the people around them. In helping children accept our human imperfections, we enable them to give understanding, empathy, and kindness to themselves and others. They are freed to act boldly in transformative ways because they have let go of burdensome resentments and unhealthy self-criticism. Learning the process of forgiveness is vital to personal well-being and the continuation of peace-making in the world.
Moral Tales, Session 5: Forgiveness http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/tales/session5/index.shtml
Study on Forgiveness and Health Outcomes http://www.academia.edu/1007805/Forgive_to_Live_Forgiveness_Health_and_Longevity
The Forgiveness Toolbox: A skills-based toolbox enabling individuals and groups to transform the impact of harm and violence and nurture peaceful co-existence http://www.theforgivenesstoolbox.com/
Barbara Marshman, What If Nobody Forgave? A story about letting go of grudges. http://www.uua.org/worship/words/readings/5955.shtml
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Clip from "Gandhi" (1982):