Midweek Faith Lift
Pillars of the Heart-Forgiveness & Gratitude
November 26, 2020
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Good morning, dear friends! Here we are at the Pillars of the Heart, the 4 pillars that support the cultivation of Joy in our very Being. We have explored the 4 pillars of the Mind: Perspective, Humility, Humor and Acceptance. In so doing, we have broadened our perspective, embraced our humanity with humility, cultivated a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves and we have begun learning how to be with what is without resisting, not an easy lift when you are attached to being “right” about things! Acceptance is a big-ticket item and not at all easy, especially when we get hooked by our attachments and desires. Ok, so now what about the heart?
Well, the very first Pillar of the Heart is Forgiveness, which is particularly potent in helping us let go of our attachments and move into true acceptance, the kind that is heartfelt and lasting. In this current moment in history that we inhabit, with all its heated rhetoric, divisiveness and conflict, there is an equally huge call for forgiveness. There is a quotation on the dust cover of The Book of Joy from Archbishop Desmond Tutu; “We grow in kindness when our kindness is tested.” Friends, it feels like we are being tested daily, repeatedly on a 24/7 basis.
And as much as anyone, I admit that I am willing to judge those who won’t wear a mask, who won’t socially distance, who gather with large numbers of family and friends and who won’t follow what seem like simple pandemic protocols. And yet, and yet, and yet again…..here I am, planning my own rebellion by trying to organize a Thanksgiving get together that stretches the rules! Hmmm, I wonder how many people we could have come for dinner and still be safe!?! What am I thinking, Deb?? OMG, am I thinking like “them”—the ones I so freely condemn and judge? Oy!! Re-think that one, Deb, with awareness and humility! I have since let go of the Thanksgiving gathering plans, but I also share the sadness that the “other” also feels about that loss, realizing that they perhaps will gather because they cannot bear the loss. It is complicated!
And that, dear friends, is the essence of forgiveness, that moment when you clearly see that what you are condemning others for doing; you also are capable of doing the same thing, just dressed up with your own justifications. What we need at this moment in our culture is a huge serving of mercy…graciousness, kindness. I love this quotation about mercy: “Mercy meets us where we are but does not leave us there.” The whole message of Jesus was one of mercy, love and forgiveness and meeting each where they are but not leaving them there! His reported words from the cross near the point of his physical death were “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Does this not also apply to me? When I can see harm I have unknowingly caused because of my decisions, words and actions, I too, can open my heart to forgiveness and mercy for myself, and for others who have caused me harm. It is not easy, but it is the only way. There really is no other way.
In the chapter on Forgiveness, both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu recount experiences in which there has been incredible forgiveness. In South Africa, Archbishop Tutu describes the work of his Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which brings groups of people together to heal and forgive. He describes a scene in which mothers of sons massacred by traitors were able to call those who betrayed them “my child” and see the hurt, wounded, children who could be so misled into doing this to their fellow countrymen. These mothers were initially furious and threw their shoes at these traitors. When they later moved to a place of forgiveness, their comment was, “ What is it going to help us if he were to go to prison? It won’t bring back our children.” Wow, what grace, mercy and compassion that is!
Forgiveness truly frees us from the past; from a prison of resentment, grudge holding and retaliation. Plotting revenge is like drinking a cup of poison and expecting the other person to die. Both Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama agree that forgiveness is part of any healing process. When we refuse to forgive, we are “disfiguring our humanity” according to the Archbishop. He says this:
We cannot say of anyone that they are totally unable to forgive. I think that all of us have that latent potential…..to be sorry for these others who are disfiguring their humanity in this way. Indeed, no one is incapable of forgiving and no one is unforgivable.” P. 231, The Book of Joy
Indeed, holding onto grudges and unforgiveness create the conditions for future suffering. Our invitation is to have compassion for those who do this without realizing how much suffering is being created. In the Eastern tradition of the Dalai Lama, this describes the laws of Karma. In Christianity, it is best described as a kind of “hell.”
Forgiveness does not mean that you do not seek justice or that the perpetrator is not punished. What it does mean is that you do not hold on to the grievance and the negativity that created the offense in the first place. It is so tempting, in our human indignation, to retell the story or repeat the lament of how you were wronged or injured. While that can be a necessary part of healing, if you stay there, then you begin to invite additional suffering and no real healing can happen. The Dalai Lama says…
…..you can choose not to develop anger and hatred. This is where the power of forgiveness lies—not losing sight of the humanity of the person while responding to the wrong with clarity and firmness. P. 234, The Book of Joy
Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us and that person holds the keys to our happiness. Forgiveness is a sign of great strength and liberates us from the prison of resentment, anger and revenge. There is no real possibility of true joy when we cling to non-forgiveness. And our physical bodies also feel much better and heal much faster when we move to true forgiveness. Research has shown that when people remember and recount their grudges, their heart, blood pressure and other measures record a stress response. When they recount times of forgiveness and reconciliation, their physical being is much more healthy with lower blood pressure, relaxed facial muscles and better respiration. Who wouldn’t want that?
The bottom line is that when we truly forgive, we are creating the conditions and the foundation for the next Pillar of Joy of the Heart and that is Gratitude. In this week before our Thanksgiving celebrations, we can note that gratitude is
“the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing.” p.242The Book of Joy. Gratitude moves us away from a narrow focus on fault and lack to the much wider perspective of benefit and abundance. There is always a blessing somewhere in the suffering. Finding that blessing is the practice of gratitude. We have talked about acceptance as a Pillar of Joy and it is a start point. Acceptance is not fighting reality; gratitude is embracing reality.
Our intention is to move from being grateful for everything to having and being grateful in the midst of everything. When we can find the blessing in the lesson and release our belief that “it shouldn’t be this way; this shouldn’t be happening” then we are free to grieve and then feel grateful for what is. We, in this era of Covid-19 with all its death and suffering and all the political strife of this moment, have had a lot to challenge our gratitude muscles and test our kindness. We just had a personal tragic loss in that a dear friend of Todd’s lost his 17-year-old daughter to a pulmonary embolism, a fatal blood clot to the lungs. It is moments like this that test your faith in God, prompting one to ask, “God where were you?” Where is the good in this? And sometimes, we don’t know or we can’t see any good. We are going on the power of Faith.
We are like Moses and his encounter with God in the Burning Bush. He asks God, “Who are you?” and the response as has traditionally been translated in English is “I Am that I Am!” However, according to Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, God says three words to Moses, “Hayah asher hayah” which means “I will be who or how or where I will be.” meaning don’t think you can predict or control or direct me. What that means to me is that just like gratitude, God is there in the midst of it all; in all the suffering, in all the joy. We cannot say where God is or what God is, we just open to the mystery of that which is greater than we are. When we can do that, even a little bit, we can know a bit more clearly that there is a Divine Order present in this Universe, despite all the suffering, despite all the human willfulness, despite all that does not seem like God.
We are a mystery of “both/and” seeking to truly know our divine/human nature each and every day. It is a personal and yet universal journey of relationship with each other and with the Divine. My relationship with God is nothing like yours and yet exactly like yours. That is the mystery and energy we share that knits us together in one human family. We are all spoiled and grateful, willful and caring, forgiving and judgmental, righteous and humble, always being surprised by God, by the incredible generosity of our fellow humans. If we are going to know joy in the midst of this time, we do so by letting go of resentments and judgments, embracing what is, listening with the heart and loving what is. It is simple, but it is not easy, and we pray for God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves….God in the midst of us is mightier than what is here now. And we are grateful.
Blessings on the Path,