Sister Doreen’s Reflections
As we left the Peaks and Valleys last week “On Road in our Spiritual Journey” we arrive at the week of Ash Wednesday, and Lent begins. I would like to share some reflections over the next seven weeks on the Seven Last Words – healing words -spoken from the Cross as part of our Lenten journey.
Healing Words from the Cross:
“Forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
From the Tree of the Cross Jesus spoke words of healing, seven important qualities we all need if we are to help complete God’s vision for humanity: in this first word spoken from the Cross for healing: LOVE IN ACTION
When these words were spoken, they were a prayer for forgiveness, mutual forgiveness asking for no limits on compassion and were spoken as forgiveness for everyone. As I reflect on our world today, I wonder if we live in a world that knows the meaning of forgiveness. Do people think of themselves as in need of forgiveness to the very depths of their brings? And I wonder about myself, I breathe in the surrounding culture and so I need to make clear to myself what a gift Jesus holds out for me, for all of us, in this first word from the Cross. I know I need to open myself to a deeper understanding of forgiveness, to ponder this first word and to hold it gently in my hands.
We have all been wounded or have wounded someone else. It’s a human condition. And we may have had the experience of not being able to forgive another person, or ourselves. And especially in these days of ‘cancel culture’ (a kind of ostracism or conspiracy of silence) and political polarization I find myself challenged by the concepts of justice, accountability, repentance and forgiveness.
Forgiveness is tricky business. It’s something we are supposed to do, Jesus says, ‘seventy times seven’ – too many times to keep track! And yet most of us have discovered forgiveness is not something we can accomplish at will. As much as we’d like to forgive, sometimes we’re just not able to. So this first word is a gift – a gift given as grace to support and enable, a healing gift to our condition.
When Jesus prayed from the tree of the Cross “Forgive them; they do not know what they are doing’ I believe these words were lifted up to God in a way that the whole tangled and unfathomable pattern of human ignorance and fear and injury and retaliation and hatred with which we live was lifted up. They were words spoken painfully, brokenly, but from a soul that seeks to set us free, to be at one, with ourselves, with others, and with God. This first word of forgiveness was for everyone, covers everyone, asks for no limits on compassion and forgiveness for everyone. This is for all people, for all times. How we need this leaf of healing in our world, in our communities and families, in ourselves today.
Joan Chittister wrote in one of her books: “there’s a period of time in every human life when the process of being healed, of coming beyond my own woundedness, may itself be life’s greatest project.” Forgiveness is a complex process that involves naming our hurt, working through old wounds, and processing feelings of anger, guilt, shame, sadness and so on. It is hard work that requires us to examine things we’d rather forget. It is the journey of a life-time. And into this hard work Jesus offers us a healing gift – a gift from God: the offer of a new, deeper relationship, a blessing, a relief, an ease of pain, and an invitation of closeness. God knows that forgiveness from the heart is very, very difficult, next to impossible on our own. Within us we know that hatred, revenge, unpleasantness, the will to dominate, resentment: all these well up within us from time to time, well up within our communities and families, within our world today. It is into this mess, this whole tangled mess, that the first word from the Cross lifts it all up for healing – a gift for all people and all time.
Forgiving others can only spring from our own forgiveness. We can be forgiven only because we ourselves know our poverty, know our own need for wholeness, know our own need to be set free, and know our own need to be forgiven and humbly accept forgiveness. This first word of healing from the Cross is spoken from a deep grief, not just because our mess is so great, but more so because God’s love, God’s compassion is so boundless. It is grief, our own grief, and the shedding of tears, that prepare the heart to receive others, whatever their journey and to forgive them, offer them freedom.
A quotation I have used before many times from Henri Nouwen in one of his books writes: “It calls me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one whom I am asked to forgive. This stepping over is the authentic discipline of forgiveness. Maybe it is more climbing over than stepping over. Often I have to climb over the wall of arguments and angry feelings that I have erected between myself and all those whom I love but who so often do not return that love. It is wall of fear, fear of being used or hurt again. It is a wall of pride, and the desire to stay in control. But every time I can step or climb over that wall, I enter the house where God dwells, and there touch my neighbour with genuine compassionate love.”
These words, “Forgive them” spoken in grief and compassion from a heart of love, help us to realize the immense suffering that results from human lostness, separation, alienation. These words help us to step over the wall and welcome others into our hearts without expecting something in return. It is only when I remember that I am God’s beloved, and that they are God’s beloved, that I can welcome others back from lostness with the healing forgiveness from the heart.
We will never know the possible triumphant outcome of one tiny reaching out. We do not know what harvest or high use God can make of one word spoken in compassion. The humble acceptance of God’s forgiving love is the root of restoration, of a communion, of taking back into friendship, and it issues in newness of life. Our wounded self can go free, our resentments and fears are destined to be transformed. They are not essential to our humanity. We are not doomed forever to hurt and destroy ourselves and one another. Blessing, new life, relief, ease of pain, love in action, concern, forgiveness. God’s incredible, tenacious love is for all of us lost and hurting human beings.
A word spoken from the Cross for the healing of myself, each other, our communities, and our world.
And I, how can I speak with God that same incredible, tenacious love in action, that hope of forgiveness and new life for the healing of myself, of each other, of our communities, and our world?