There’s a man here in the Atlanta area (I think he’s from Britain originally) named Colin Tipping who has written a book called Radical Forgiveness. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say too much about the book one way or the other. But I love the title, that alone makes the book worth considering. I thought about it the other day when I was flipping through a different book, one which we sell at the Abbey Store (alas, I can’t remember which one, but it was a garden-variety book on Christian prayer) and saw a paragraph about how important forgiveness is to prayer. That book said something to the effect of, “before you get deep into your prayer, take time to consider if there’s anyone you need forgiving — and do it. Forgiveness is essential to prayer.” I like Tipping’s idea of radical forgiveness since it suggests that true forgiveness gets to the root of our spiritual identity. If we forgive all the way down to the root of who we are, then we are cleansed and purified all the way down to the root as well. What a lovely thought.
This, of course, reminds me of one of Jesus’ teachings:
“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25-26)
It also reminds me a bit of this snippet from the Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
There seems to be, in Jesus’ teaching at least, a link between forgiving others and experiencing forgiveness, just as reconciling with others is a necessary prerequisite for worship. Forgiveness and reconciliation are forms of spiritual super-food. They cleanse us, they fortify in us virtues such as humility and hospitality, and they liberate us from the oppression of our own toxic resentments, bitterness, and unproductive anger.
So why don’t we forgive more? Why aren’t Christians (and other wisdomseekers) pouring more energy into reconciliation?
You know the drill. The ego doesn’t want to let go. Forgiveness feels weak and vulnerable, and we believe deep down inside that if we show our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, then we will get trampled on. We confuse forgiveness with condoning, and assume that if we forgive others, then they are getting away with their misdeeds. Then, perhaps it has to do with glamour: forgiveness is not showy or sexy; it doesn’t sizzle, it’s not going to get it’s own reality show anytime soon. Its rewards are so firmly lodged in the spirit that the ego is left thinking “what’s in it for me?” — and, concluding that all forgiveness does is starve the ego, it therefore will do all in its power to hold on to its righteous anger, its sense of victimization, and its bitter insistence that it holds the moral high ground.
So the ego wants to keep us separate from those whom we would forgive, but the terrible price to be paid for this is that it also keeps us separate from those who would forgive us — including God. Until we step out from under the self-defining construct/structure of the great “I” we will cheat ourselves of the possibility of experiencing the love and joy and peace of true forgiveness, true reconciliation, true re-union: with each other and with God.
I’ve written a fair amount in this blog over the last few days on such erudite concepts as theosis, kenosis, and gnosis. While those “osis” categories might make for interesting spiritual reflection and conversation, perhaps we need to bring the conversation back down to earth for a bit. Do you want real “jet fuel” for your spiritual life? Then take inventory of everyone in your life (including yourself) with whom you are not fully reconciled, and where there is need for forgiveness (to be given or received). And then get busy with the messy, get-your-hands-dirty work of making it happen. With God’s grace, of course.