Forgiving others vital for humanity, ourselves

By The Rev. Jan Griffin, Special to the Tri-City HeraldSeptember 29, 2012 

RICHLAND, Wash. -- "Who took my rake?"

I got to my daily work assignment late, and someone had taken the rake I was using. I was really riled! My rake was gone, without my knowledge or permission.

How am I going to finish my work? Who would be so sneaky and rude? Within my head I created quite a scenario of abuse, betrayal and personal failure.

I was attending a weeklong spiritual retreat, built around the themes of forgiveness, letting go of over-attachment and stopping the urge to create our own stories about what is happening.

And here I was, in a stew about "my" rake, although it belonged to the retreat center, not to me. The rake wasn't stolen; it was just being used for other work.

Despite my seething stories about it being taken without my permission and because someone thought their work was more important than mine, the simple truth was that it looked as though I was finished with my task, especially because I hadn't shown up to resume it.

There was in no expectation that I would get all the raking done. They were grateful for whatever I accomplished, so there was no way I could fail at my task except in my own head.

In a period of silent reflection later that day, I realized how completely I had fallen into all three swamps of behavior that the retreat was addressing. I was overly attached to the rake and to my task; I had created little stories about who had taken the rake and why (none of which were true); and I was full of resentment, running on empty when it came to forgiveness.

Forgiveness lies at the core of Christian faith, along with its spiritual companions, humility and letting go. Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the hardest task, for it means that we humbly accept that we are fallible and flawed, and human after all!

Forgiving others in order to free ourselves of anger and resentment is crucial for humanity. The world is reeling from the violence and hatred that comes from the inability to forgive each other and care more about reconciliation than revenge.

Hanging on to money, things, to fears and fantasies, is challenged again and again in spiritual teachings about letting go of everything in order to follow where faith leads. When we hold life lightly, we can lose a rake without a meltdown!

In the book Taking the Leap, American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron poses a profound question: "Am I living in a way that adds further aggression and self-centeredness to the world or am I adding sanity?"

I'm trying to hold onto Chodron's question. When I feel anger or resentment welling up, or when I start to make up a story about why someone is behaving badly so I can judge them, I stop and think: Does my reaction add aggression and self-centeredness to the world, or add a bit of sanity, a bit of forgiveness, humility, lightness? Will I choose to forgive, as I have been forgiven, to love as I am loved?

* The Rev. Jan Griffin is the Congregational Developer for the Southwest Region of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane. She is retired from parish ministry in Richland.

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