Formation Resources: Forgiveness to Freedom

by: 
Bob Scott, Kathryn Carroll, Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones

Contemplative photo by Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones

For the offended person to take the initiative in offering forgiveness seems challenging. Senseless, even, by societal standards, but not at all by Christian standards. Surely, passing “judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13) is not uncommon these days (in the American pastime of public shaming,) but Paul invites us to consider the question of what makes for “peace and mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19) in communities of faith. And Jesus reminds us that a key element in the complexion of Christian community is forgiveness.

This week’s Formation reflections invite the reader to see how forgiveness enables freedom, community-building, and the possibility to see into a transformed future. They also invite reflection on Christians as a people both forgiven and forgiving. Because of this awareness, we must also consider our responsibilities to balance personal freedoms and the common good. We hope you enjoy these reflections.

Blessings and peace,
Kathy

Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones
Associate Director, Faith Formation & Education

 


 


This Sunday
 

To prepare for Sunday, see this week’s readings.

 


Adult Learning 
 

Claim Your Moment

Bob Scott

“Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity, and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves.”—David Whyte

My daughter’s former riding instructor liked to ask her students a question that seemed to drive them crazy. Many things can go wrong when you’re riding due to factors beyond your control. So if a rider, say, got thrown because a truck backfired, the instructor would ask, “What could you do differently in that situation?” The riders often heard it as a way of blaming the mishap on them. Observing from a distance, it seemed to me that the instructor was asking them to focus on what they could do something about. Even when insurmountable circumstances impinge on us, there is always some part — maybe a tiny one — that’s ours. (And no, that doesn’t mean we’re to blame.)

In this week’s lectionary, Jesus gives a command that could easily drive his followers crazy. In contrast to last week, when he offered guidelines for settling disputes with steps, boundaries, and a resolution, this week he tells Peter that he must forgive another church member seventy-seven times. In practical terms that number may as well be infinity. Then he tells a parable where the consequences of failing to forgive are terrifying.

We can generalize this passage into a bromide such as “forgiveness is important,” but if we take what he’s saying at face value, it raises some thorny questions. Does forgiveness mean staying with someone who abuses you? Does it mean that all forms of behavior are ultimately okay? Does it mean that racism is a thing about which we can “agree to disagree”? Let me put it simply: “No.”

What is forgiveness? It isn’t a “natural” reaction. What if, instead, it’s a rare moment of actual freedom? Systems theory, psychology, neuroscience, social dynamics, and other ways of comprehending human behavior all suggest that much of what we think of as choice has very little free will in it. The late theologian Walter Wink wrote a brilliant series of books arguing that what Paul called “powers and principalities” was a profound way of speaking about the ways that institutions and societies program human behavior. He showed how that influence demands intentional resistance. In the process he crafted a theology of nonviolent action for social justice.

The pressures on us to conform make our moments of free choice all the more precious. Forgiveness may be the most generative act of freedom. Poet David Whyte helps us to understand why forgiveness doesn’t condone an oppressive status quo when he observes that it isn’t an act of forgetting, but one of compassion. In Consolations, he writes, “Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity, and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves.” It’s our moment of freedom.

We know that righteous anger has fueled the struggle for justice from the days of the Hebrew prophets through Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and Black Lives Matter. Whyte’s insight helps us to see how forgiveness enables change, as well, by freeing us to envision a different future. It’s that part of any situation that’s uniquely ours. Jesus shows us how to claim it and act on it.

 


Adult Practice
 


Contemplative photo by Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones

A Forgiveness Practice

Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones

Close your eyes or soften your gaze to begin this prayer practice. Gently placing your hand over your heart, feel its warmth and set an intention to sit in the Presence of God with an open heart. As you begin to come into stillness, notice your breathing, in and out, connecting with the Breath of Life animating you — the divine breath breathing you. Rest there for several breaths…

When you are ready, call to mind someone in your life you may have harmed, intentionally or unintentionally, acknowledging the anger, fear, pain, or confusion that may have motivated your actions at the time. Holding an image of this person in your mind, begin to ask for forgiveness by repeating these phrases, in silence or aloud, pausing between each:  

I ask you to forgive me.
Please forgive me for the hurt I have caused you.
I now understand that I didn’t manage the encounter in a loving way, and I ask your forgiveness.

Feel the feelings that arise and acknowledge your desire to repair this relationship. Then relax back into a focus on breathing in and out of your heart center.  Now, with as much compassion as possible, bring to mind an occasion of your having been harmed in some way, by someone in your life. Acknowledge your efforts to forgive the actor (not the actions) who, like you, may have been motivated by anger, fear, pain, or confusion and/or a lack of skillfulness in relating to you. Using the similar phrases, see if you can invite a willingness to offer forgiveness to this person, doing your best to set aside resentment, if you are able. With attention to your heart and the feelings that arise, acknowledge your desire to forgive this person as you begin to repeat the phrases:

I forgive you.
I forgive you for the ways that you have hurt me.
Knowing that you are responsible for your actions, I offer you forgiveness.

If the desire is all you can muster, let that be enough and offer your efforts to God. Finally, turning your attention to yourself, acknowledging times when you may have participated in your own harm through self-judgement, criticism, self-betrayal, or emotional or physical harm. 

Gently repeat the phrases to yourself, noticing any sorrow, blaming, or rationalizing that may arise. Greet the feelings with compassion as you repeat the phrases to yourself. End this practice with a prayer of gratitude for your willingness to free yourself from long-held resentments and ask God to lead you on the path of freedom and compassion, as you continue your day with an open heart.

 

A Prayer, Verbatim, from the Mother of Jacob Blake

“As I have prayed for my son’s healing, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I also have been praying, even before this, for the healing of our country. We are the United States. Have we been united? Do you understand what’s going to happen when we fall? Because a house that is against each other cannot stand. To all of the police officers, I’m praying for you and your families. To all of the citizens, my Black and brown sisters and brothers, I’m praying for you. I believe that you are an intelligent being just like the rest of us. Everybody, let’s use our hearts, our love, and our intelligence to work together to show the rest of the world how humans are supposed to treat each other. America is great when we behave greatly.”

From The Atlantic

 


Children and Families
 

Contemplative photo by Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones

Paying Forward, Not Back

Kathryn Carroll

Parents: This week I’m thinking about superheroes and role models. Instant news and social media have changed the way we process the announcements of celebrities’ deaths. Their obituaries, eulogies, and biographies seem to all arrive simultaneously. I felt this acutely when I learned of Chadwick Boseman’s death, and I mourned him, his real life’s achievements, potential, and legacy along with that of the characters he portrayed. One could argue that T’Challa, King of Wakanda, was a kind of Moses. Or the reverse, that Moses was the superhero of The Bronze Age. When we read the story of his parting of the sea, which freed his people and annihilated the soldiers of their captors, we could be reading a comic book. I can hear and see the exclamation bubbles, “Whoosh!” “Ahhhh!” “I got this!” “Gurgle-gurgle.” I’m not saying that Exodus is an ancient comic book legend. But what if it were?

Most, if not all, of the early comic books were political metaphors or morality lessons and began with the basic dual concepts of good and evil. As they evolved, the gray layers of the human spirit and psyche emerged and colored the stories with an increasingly complex palette. What hasn’t seemed to change much in 6,000 years, from Moses’ story to The Black Panther is, for both leaders, despite their reluctance, they felt they had to resort to violence in order to save their people. In both stories, there was some revenge, mutiny, oppression, isolationism, and justifications for the means used to resolve conflict. Both also knew that they were only one part of the ongoing story of their people and, for better or worse, their people’s dependence upon a leader.

And then, between Moses’ time and T’Challa, was Jesus, a descendent and student of Moses’ teachings and life. In this week’s gospel, Matthew 18:21–35, Jesus talks about sincere forgiveness, mercy, and generosity; the kind that continues to pay forward, not pay back. But wait, how did Jesus get that from his superhero stories, which were filled with vengeance, violence, and domination “in God’s name”? If taken in isolation, we might conclude that some of the chapters and books of the Old Testament were training manuals for comic book villains and the heroes who conquer them. And yet, they all shared an aspiration for at least an approximation of the “Kingdom of Heaven,” though they perceived and modeled it in different ways. One demonstrated it without committing violence, or exacting revenge, discrimination, or even holding a grudge. When Jesus says, “do this in my/my father’s name,” I think it more than implies what not to do — in his name.

Additional Resource

“Helping Children with Pandemic Grief” from The New York Times

Family Worship: Home Edition

See Family Worship: Home Edition to see this week’s activity for children and families.

 


Song of the Week
 

Each week, we’re sharing a song of the week to help you go deeper with each Sunday’s theme. The playlist will be updated weekly, and the song of the week will sit on top.