Loving Our Enemies, part 2 – Forgiveness
A conversation between Mark Kutolowski and Robin Junker-Boyce
God is a spring of living water which flows unceasingly into the hearts of those who pray. –Saint Louis de Montfort (1673-1716)
Loving Our Enemies, part 2 – Forgiveness
(A transcript from part one can be viewed here).
Robin: Greetings, friends, it's Mark Kutolowski and Robin Junker here again for part two on Loving Your Enemies, which will focus on the practice of forgiveness and the importance of forgiveness. In order to do that, I want to begin by reminding us of last week's central scripture, which was on Loving your Enemies from Matthew chapter five, verse 43:
You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his son rise on the evil and on the good and sends reign on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same. And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same, be perfect (or as Mark reminded us last time, ‘be undivided’), therefore as your heavenly father is undivided.
So the sun rises on the evil and the good, the rain on the righteous, on the unrighteous. And we are here again on this rainy day.
Mark: Another rainy day.
Robin: We decided to focus on the importance of forgiveness in this conversation. Let's begin with asking the question: How does this practice of forgiveness tie in with loving our enemies?
Mark: Loving our enemies is an active movement. We see people who we are in conflict with or in opposition to, and we make a proactive choice: “I'm going to act towards these other people with love.” That is a stance that is more proactive, and forgiveness is a similar attitude, but taken after we've been hurt. So it may be somebody that's very dear to us, a family member, a close friend. If we feel hurt, betrayed or wounded in some way, forgiveness is the remedy that Jesus gives us to restore our hearts and our souls to right relationship with God, and hopefully to other people too. It's how to live in this realm of God’s love once we've already experienced hurt and pain at the hands of another.
Robin: What I find interesting and noteworthy to lift up from what you just said is that you focused on the fact that this is a restoration of the relationship between you and God. Yes. Where I think for many of us, when we think of what forgiveness is, it's more on the horizontal and less on the vertical plane. It’s more about the horizontal relationship between two people. So I think it's important for me to recognize that you just reminded me, yes, it is about restoring the right relationship with God. To bring our heart and our soul to right relationship with God.
Mark: That's a critical difference because we can't necessarily control being restored to relationship with another person. I've counseled people who have struggled with this tremendously. They say, well look, I tried to reconcile with so-and-so, but they didn't want to. Therefore I'm stuck. And in terms of reconciliation of a human relationship, it's true, it's very vulnerable. You can't necessarily control how the other person is going to respond, but you can always forgive. What you do when you forgive, you turn your own heart back into a mirroring or an echoing of the divine love that Jesus spoke about that shines on the good and the bad and rains on the just and the unjust. When we forgive, we love from that God-like love, that self-giving love, and it doesn't matter what the other person does. In other words, the other person can't stop us from loving this way. This is the great power of forgiveness that you see in people that have had very terrible things happen to them. Some of the survivors of great atrocities speak of learning to forgive their captors and their tormentors. It's not because they learned how to get along with them, but they did learn to forgive them and therefore became spiritually free even while still imprisoned.
Robin: Yes. I value that idea and the reminder that this is something that no one on outside of you can interrupt. Yes. If you choose to do it, it is within your power. It is within your power regardless of the circumstances around you or what is being perpetrated upon you. Yes. If you have the power to forgive, no one can take that from you. That's right.
Mark: It's a divine power. If we look at the conditioned mind and our ordinary fears and our attractions and attractions and aversion, sure - when somebody does something bad to me, I feel negatively towards them. Of course, as soon as I do that, I close myself off from abiding in unconditional love. It's a spiritual power to go beyond the place of our normal conditioning. Iit doesn't mean that we don't feel the pain that comes from being hurt, but we choose to move into a different response and we work at it. Sometimes forgiveness takes a lot of work, it’s a discipline and a practice. When we do this work, we shift into a spiritual mode of being where we can become free.
Robin: Forgiveness is obviously not condoning. It’s not about approving of the infraction, or not condoning the behavior that may have led to the hurt.
Mark: This is important, Robin, to talk about what is forgiveness and what it isn't. Often, condoning the behavior is not necessarily right or even possible. The etymology of the word forgiveness gives us a hint here. The prefix ‘for’ can mean among other things to abstain or to renounce. To ‘give’ means to hand over or to transfer. So one technical reading of the meaning of the word forgiveness means to renounce transferring or handing something over. What we're renouncing or handing over is the pain, or the agitation, or the hurt. It means that the hurt that we receive, we refuse to pass on or feed back to the other person in a relationship.
Robin: Right. We let go and let God. It’s such a simple way to say it, but it can be very difficult to do. What if we were to look at hurt or the causes of pain upon a person under a higher resolution. What are we typically hurt about? Is it our esteem or identity that is hurt? It could be a physical body that was hurt….
Mark: It could be many things. I don't want to say it doesn't matter, but the ways that we can experience hurt are so diverse that we almost can't list them. What is considered a hurt is based on the perception of the receiver. So it's not necessarily what are the things that hurt us, but what are the signs and symptoms that we've been hurt? Because even physical pain does not necessarily need to be a source of agitation. For example, if two buddies on a schoolyard are in a playful wrestling match and one gets injured, they might not feel offended at all, even if they sprain a wrist in their jostling. In contrast, consider the perception that you've been slighted. You may feel a contracting of the heart, and oftentimes there's a kind of fight or flight or freeze response. There may be an increased heart rate, increased respiration, tension rising in the body. Thoughts start spinning, emotions start spinning. You start to feel like you lose control of yourself, even if you're holding it in, and there’s a sense of psychic dislocation. These are all signs that come with a sense of being ‘hurt’.
Robin: Funny, it reminds me of a little car ride last night, bringing my seven year old and his little friend home from karate. They were having this disagreement. They were discussing some karate moves and one of the boys said to the other, “Well, I actually can explain this better than you can, so why don't I do the explaining?” Then that led to the other one saying, “Well actually I have better moves than you do, so why don't you leave that to me. I think I'm the best in the class at these certain moves.” And I'm thinking how it would've been horrible for me to experience this conversation as a young girl. I love that the two of them were happy to say, well, why don't we just let sensei figure that out tomorrow and the sensei's just going to say such and such.
That was not a hurtful situation for them. What hurts us can be vast and it's diverse and it's different for every person. As a little girl, in that kind of conversation I would've been feeling incredibly tense. “Oh my gosh, are you better than me? Or did I just make you feel bad about being better at something?” For these boys, it was just a show of some kind. To make that point, we're hurt whenever we sense that feeling of the desire to fight, to flee or perhaps to freeze.
Mark: I find for myself, it's helpful to notice the physical aspects of the response. It's that sensation of a contraction and a kind of compulsive response that comes from the lower, more instinctual self. It a kind of reflex rather than a conscious choice or a free decision.
Robin: So is that what we might call the ego promoting or protecting itself?
Mark: Yes, that's right. The ego, it’s that part of ourselves that feels scared. It feels isolated and alone and sees its top job to promote our wellbeing, come what may, against everyone or anything else.
The less one is identified with the ego, the less one is hurt, and therefore the less there is to forgive. This is partially why forgiveness is so powerful because the more we forgive, the more we start to loosen the grip of the ego. The more free we are to love, the more we're experiencing the love of God. It's a practical, important thing. If we don't forgive, we get stuck. If we do, we open into the realm of love.
Robin: Thinking back to the last conversation we had, sometimes there's this sense in which if I actually practice this, then somehow I'm not going to be living with purpose. That “I need to help other people and I need to do justice and I need to….” There's this agenda that my identity is sort of created or I have an agenda that my identity sort of says I must meet in order to be a worthy human being. I don't know if The Cloud of Unknowing might speak to this a little bit, but my sense is that the dissolution of the self can bring with it a fear: “Will there be purpose in just abiding in the mercy and grace and love of God?”
Mark: Maybe to go even further, not just “Will there be a purpose?”, but “Will there be a person? Will this kill me? Will I die if I truly let go?” The paradox is that as scripture says, actually yes you will die if you fully let go. Yes. Hence Jesus’ saying that whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will save it. It will feel like a death because it is in a sense a death of the ego.
An important distinction: When the ego dies or when the ego loses its central position what rises is the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us. We actually live more abundantly, but who we thought we were isn't in the center of our life anymore. Our life is animated by, and becomes, an expression of a love that's bigger than us. It ends up being an elevation of who we truly are. Not the diminishment of it, that's the paradox, right?
Robin: It is, praise God! When you speak this way, there's a sense in which there's such a letting go of control. When we're in that place, the need to hold onto tightly is just not there. You're just like, “Okay, here we are, Holy One, lead us. Be with us.” Holy desire versus ego desire. When someone is ready or begins to say to themselves, “I need to forgive, I'm ready to forgive.” What is that point for them? Is it this sense that the pain is so great that this is the only place I can go with it anymore? I can't fight anymore. I can't run anymore. This is the time for me to really take seriously the tenant to forgive.
Mark: As you're describing that, Robin, it almost feels like the process has already begun. When one makes that choice to even see the possibility to forgive, there's already been a little start of the process of healing. It's as if you can see just a little seed. A little glimmer that, oh, it's possible to live beyond this hurt. So, I'm going to chase after it. What a beautiful thing.
Robin: I think where I've seen it so beautifully displayed is in the many people who I've walked through very hard times with divorce. There are times when the heat is high, and the other is an enemy. Then there comes a point where they say, this just isn't how I want to live. I want to be in right relationship with my Creator and I want to feel joy again and peace. Then they begin to let go. It's lovely to watch them begin to love their enemy, to forgive past wrongs. There is this time period of true grace that I see people walk in and I’m very fortunate to see it. Then life does come back where we can get back into some patterns that we again need to confront. And so there returns the need for forgiveness.
I was wondering if we could kind of focus on the scripture passage of the unforgiving servant, too, if you wanted to share that turn up the heat a little bit.
Mark: Sure. This is a passage I really appreciate. It's a shocking passage. It speaks to how practical and necessary this practice is if we want to abide in God in any meaningful way. This is again from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 18, beginning with verse 21:
Then Peter came and said to Jesus, Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, not seven times, but I tell you 77 times. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts for his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him. As he could not pay, his Lord ordered him to be sold together with his wife and children and all his possessions and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him saying, have patience with me and I will pay you everything. Out of compassion for him, the Lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him by the throat, he said, “pay what you owe!” Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me and I will pay you.” But he refused. Then, he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and they went and reported to their Lord all that had taken place. Then his Lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave as I had mercy on you?” In anger his Lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
It's that last line that really hits hard - if you do not forgive, you will be tortured. There’s this comparison between us and God. The Lord in the parable is forgiving us for all sorts of errors and mistakes and shining love and mercy upon us unconditionally. Then we take an issue that's so small in comparison and turn it into this thing where we want to choke somebody. Often, that's quite literally what it feels like! Then there’s that statement, that if we do not forgive from the heart, we will be tortured. It's not saying that God has a temper problem! It's a graphic way of illustrating a spiritual law that if we close our hearts towards another, we do not find peace. A simple way to put it would be a formula. If we have a little bit of forgiveness, we will get a little bit of peace. If we have a lot of forgiveness, we will experience a lot of peace. If we practice universal, unconditional forgiveness, we will experience universal, unconditional peace. Of course, we have to practice that. It doesn't come right away. But the parable is saying, this is the consequence of whether or not we forgive in every circumstance.
Robin: How do you know that you've forgiven?
Mark: It's the flip side of this dynamic we’ve been discussing. The sensation of being hurt is agitation, spinning of thoughts and emotions, and a sense of contraction in the body, narrowing of the heart, and the fight, flight, freeze response. The opposite is true, when I know that I've forgiven somebody is when I see that person or when they come to my mind and there is none of that energy rising. Instead, I can feel a warmth and a tenderness and a compassion in my heart, even if they're still a scoundrel! It's not about the other person being good. I can see the person I’ve forgiven in all of their faults and still experience love for them. That's a sign that forgiveness has taken place.
Robin: Which is so interesting, because it makes you wonder about your relationship to your own self at that moment. Where you have forgiven the other whom you deemed as a scoundrel. like you said, and then you don't see them as that anymore. Your heart is warm as if you have warmed up to your own self too. This relates to what you were saying in our last conversation about how, to the extent that we have made space within ourselves for the shadow and for the things that we find repulsive in others that we become able to love them. We say, oh wait, that's in me. Then I can make space for that aspect of my being. It doesn't mean that I have to be that. It doesn't mean that I have to act on that. It is this acceptance that I am all of these aspects, and I all of this I am deeply loved by a higher love. Then you can emanate out with confidence at the ‘scoundrel’ and say, oh yeah, I love you because there's a scoundrel in me too.
Mark: Yes. We're all bumbling along on the same road.
Robin: It's mine, too. Just the same path here. Just a little different than yours. Right?
Mark: Yes. That's a beautiful way of saying it.
Robin: One of the things that I really loved in that particular passage, which I don't know if it directly relates to forgiveness, is the characters of the people who reported this servant, and they were distressed. I love that thought that they were able to see something that was wrong in the sense that: “Wait a minute, you were forgiven, you were given a second chance and you're not giving it to somebody else!” That is distressful to see. It is quite remarkable. The unforgiving servant was able to receive patience from the king and to receive forgiveness and then not realize the gift that he had been given. Yes. I suppose that this is true for many of us, that we have not opened our hearts up to the love and to the grace and the forgiveness that God has given us.
Mark: I think that's part of the challenge. Whatever our wounds are, and they may feel very, very great from our egocentric perspective, they're very, very small compared to the divine mercy that's always available. That's the tragedy. The paradox is that they feel so all-consuming and then when there's a moment of freedom, we see that they're so small. There’s a beautiful quote from William Langland:
All the wickedness in the world that man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.
You just picture that little ember fizzling out as it lands in the ocean. But when we're holding the coal in our hand, and all we can see is the coal, it feels like that's the whole world.
Robin: It really does. It's almost as if we're programmed, and we want to hold on. We want to make that coal seem like it's so big, it's insurmountable. We can't forgive ourselves, we can't forgive each other. It's just too big. And that too, to place it in perspective would be an abomination.
Mark: Right. Where we get hung up is this idea, and this happens very much in public life, that to forgive the other or the other group is an act of betrayal to my group. That's the worst thing that one could do, and may even earn you hatred from people that used to be your friends. So instead, we spin out in these cycles of “If only I can avenge the wrong, all will be well.” Vengeance is the antithesis of forgiveness . So much of our cultural storytelling these days glorifies vengeance. It's often in movies. It centers around the hero avenging a wrong that was done to them or to their loved ones. The triumph and the success of the movie is when the hero kills the bad guy that had done the bad thing earlier. As a viewer, you're supposed to feel the sense of cathartic relief when you see that happen. It's a very deep story, and completely ineffective from this perspective of Christ.
Robin: I think that is, there's got to be some biological reason too for that dopamine rush that comes with being right. I need to do some research on that. It feels too good. I mean it just feels so good. There's got to be some biology behind that. Right? Definitely. There's got to be some reason why that actually benefited humans to a certain degree.
Mark: I don't know anything about that kind of evolutionary perspective, but certainly the lure of vengeance is that it feels good. I’ve felt that. I remember a time when I was praying and in a place of peace and tranquility, and then I felt an old hurt arise in my awareness. There was a moment of awareness where I had the thought, “Do you really want to leave this peace to go have that feeling of righteous anger and go do something about it?” And I remember at the moment thinking, somewhat compulsively, “Heck yeah, I do!” So I left the abode of peace to indulge the anger! Maybe it was two weeks later when I finally woke up and started to realize, “Wait a minute, what just happened?”
Robin: It feels so good. It feels so good at first.
Mark: Exactly. It feels so good at first. Then there's the emotional hangover and the gradual realization: “Oh man, well that didn't actually make anything better.”
Robin: Well the problem is, it's just like anything else. You can't satiate the desire.
Robin: You can't wait for the next ‘hit’ of you being right. That feeling does not last. Yeah. It's so impermanent.
Mark: ‘Righteous anger’ is not quelled by getting what it wants
Robin: Nope. Then you meditate on the cross and its relationship to forgiveness. Yes, the Cross is a symbol of forgiveness. I was reminding my parishioners just last Sunday of what Jesus said on the Cross was not, “I'm going to get you back for this, or just wait, my followers, they're going to just take you down because you are wrong. What you have done is wrong.” He looked at the people, and he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” If that isn't humbling, I don't know what is! I walk around, and most of us walk around, not knowing what we do and believing we are so right. We're so certain we're right. If I could turn that onto myself, or if we could remind ourselves that we are loved and forgiven, even though we know not what we do, our days might be a little bit easier.
Mark: That’s a beautiful statement, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they're doing.” To me, it also offers a little window into how to do this act of forgiveness. It's not the whole thing, but one aspect of forgiveness is if we can actually see that whoever has hurt us did not know what they're doing on a deeper level. Every time when somebody does something harmful, on some level they themselves are acting out of fear, compulsion, ego, and a sense of scarcity. If they felt fully loved and knew themselves as love in that moment, they wouldn't have done the thing that was hurtful. So, we can say that to ourselves about the situation as a way of opening up a little space because it's always true. Saint Thomas Aquinas has a wonderful description of sin. He wrote that because human beings are made in God's image and likeness, we are always inclined towards what is good. Then he said that sin is when an evil is presented to us under the illusion of being a good, and we consent to it. It’s when we get confused and we see something like getting even with this person, and it feels like that's going to be good for me, and we pursue the thing that is actually harmful thinking it's going to be good. It's an act of delusion. In every outrage, whether one that affected me personally or a historical atrocity, somebody thought they were doing something good. Their sense of good may have become very narrow and distorted. We see this in wars. Both groups are scared and they're convinced that they're right. You see it in domestic violence. This doesn't mean the actions are excusable at all, but in the delusion, the person thinks that they're acting maybe in self-protection. There is actually a basis for their action, rooted in a distorted sense of what is good. Father, forgive them. They know not what they were doing. They were acting under compulsion, under fear, under something less than who they are as a child of God. I think sometimes that can be helpful as a little window into getting a little space, and to start to forgive.
Robin: Evil, and viewing it as a good. I wonder about an example of people who have forgiven and how they then relate to the world. I mean other than Jesus. I know Etty Hillesum is a good example of someone who forgave as she was in Auschwitz. She was a Jewish woman who actually died in Auschwitz. But we have her diaries from 1941 to 1944. There were points at which she had forgiven her perpetrators to the extent that she was actually able to give glory to God in the midst of the darkness. She also had that attitude of they don't know what they're doing, they don't understand. She had deep compassion for the German soldiers. She was able to then come to such a place that she was actually praying for God at the end of her life. This was a woman who was atheistic at the beginning of her journey in 1941. And then was amenable to the idea of using this term God. But then by the end of her life was saying, we must pray. I pray for you, Holy One, because I recognize that you need all the support you can get. Well, I highly recommend her diaries. The book is called An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork.
I guess there's a radiance in a sense to people who have truly come to terms with letting go. Letting go and landing in the arms of God.
Mark: That’s a beautiful story. There are others from extreme circumstances like that. Another one that comes to my mind is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was part of leading the truth and reconciliation commissions which were responding to the atrocities in South Africa. Forgiveness was taken as a public stance! He wrote a book titled No Future Without Forgiveness. The title says it all. Tutu has this radiance about him, and this freedom and joy of life that shines through even having seen the worst that humanity can do. Yet, love shines through. I think his love was even greater because of having taken this journey of forgiveness.
But so we're not just talking about historic figures, I have a friend who I think would probably prefer to remain anonymous. Her father was murdered when she was one year old. I think she was probably in her forties by this point, but she decided to track down and befriend her father's murderer as a part of her own journey of healing. She was able to do the work of forgiveness first, and then to extend a hand to the person who had done this act. Of course there are no guarantees of mutual receptivity. But in this case, he was able to open to her in response. It just feels like a tremendous victory of love that there was this space for healing between them. Then, she acted as an agent of reconciliation between him and offering up lines of communication between him and other members of her family to begin to affect healing throughout several generations that were affected by this tragedy. This was all possible because of her courage. Because she saw him as a human being in the midst of her hurt.
Robin: I think for many people, the hardest people to forgive are the ones in their family, for either grievances that they can't even really remember or for the current things that are happening right now in their lives. This one friend of mine was really struggling with their siblings. When you listen to their story and you hear of the pain that this very successful family had, it’s hard to take it all in. When I hear what happened over generations in that family, I looked at this friend and I said, your family is a walking miracle. It's not perfect, but it's a walking miracle to have come out of tragedy and to still be talking with one another, to still be caring for one another. Yes, you're fighting. Yes. There feels like there's these moments of not being able to forgive, but so much has already been forgiven. If we could reframe for one another the miracle of who we are, just the fact that we have made it to where we are, and that imperfect parents have been able to shed enough light to create children who walk and talk and speak and give and are relatively very kind people… that's a miracle. It seems like we sometimes become too perfectionistic in our culture. That perfectionism is demanding we be pure people again, and in this we are not allowing the space for our shadow, and our past pain. I like that idea of lifting people up and to recognize how far you've come. In that you might find more room to let go and to forgive. But again, I want to caution myself to remember what you said at the beginning that the vertical relationship with God is what is restored. We can again get so heavily focused on the horizontal relationships that we forget that the strength and the power comes from focusing on that original relationship with God.
Mark: I think there are two aspects of that relationship. We might say that there is an ‘upward’ aspect and a ‘downward’ aspect. The upward movement is a turning to the mystery and the love and the grace of God. The downward movement, which Jesus walked so beautifully in his life, and especially in the mystery of his crucifixion, is to feel the pain of our human condition or of the particular circumstance without passing it on to another, but to actually to feel it and to experience it. It is to weep and to mourn and to let the suffering move through us. That's the downward movement of grace. They are both true and necessary. The ability to suffer without passing the pain along is so essential to this work of forgiveness. And, it needs to be coupled with that awareness of God's grace and love. We can't just do one or the other, but when they're together, there's a tremendous power that's unleashed.
Robin: What can often happen, I think, is when people get to the point of feeling “I was victimized, and I'm weeping over it, and I am grieving, and I’m crying and crying.” There's this element when we haven't made it to that restoration between us and our God, and we get stuck at this place of “why me?” “Why did it have to happen? If only it didn't happen to me.” Do you want to speak to that point? What's going on there us in these times? What are we clinging to?
Mark: It's a mystery and it's something that we can't easily explain away. I think it's important in a Christian perspective that we have an incarnate aspect of our faith. Why would God allow this to happen? Many people have become atheists in the face of tragedy. They say, “I can't believe in a God that would allow this thing to happen.” I don't have a simple answer for that. I'm not even going to try to defend God for why tragedies happen. But what I will say is that if we look at Jesus as the visible face of God, we can say that God responds to the suffering by being present with it, and by embracing and enduring suffering. His story teaches us that the end of suffering that's embraced and endured is not death, but resurrection.
It's a mystery that I don't think we should try to explain away. We can say that God is with us in it, and that if we follow the journey of pain without hiding from it and while trusting in God, then there will be a different destination. This approach undoes the question, “Why did this happen to me?” There's now a way through our suffering that brings life. We may never know the answer to that initial question. If we get hung up on it, we may never get to take the journey of forgiveness.
Robin: There comes a time where that question becomes irrelevant to some degree. The desire to need to know is supplanted by an awareness that again, that you are held and seen by something divine that can break into your life.
Mark: That brings us to the idea of the sacred wound. This is a belief that the wound which seemed like it was going to crush us, actually becomes our blessed doorway into life and the spirit. You'll hear many people that have gone through the 12 step process say “It may have ruined my life, but I thank God for my alcoholism, because this is how I became spiritually alive.” or something along those lines. People that have also had great other great tragedies happen to them, I've heard them say, “I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but this loss broke me open to love and I wouldn't ask for it to be undone.” Perhaps that’s one expression of the full ripening of the fruit of forgiveness. We can actually be grateful even in the midst of our deepest hurt - not in some sadistic way, but in this strange mystery that we've actually been healed by the journey
Robin: I think this is what I mean by the question becomes no longer relevant. In some alchemical way, it has been resolved. Many people will say, “It couldn't be me. I couldn't love this way. I couldn't extend this compassion. I wouldn't understand the nature of reality, the depth that I know it and understand it if I hadn't been through this. All of a sudden, the wound becomes sacred. Yes. What was a wound that one was resentful for having becomes a sacred, holy wound. That shift in perspective is just so profound. You mentioned alcoholics and people who have been to the bottom and have been unable to manage their life. So many of us walk around managing things, right? We think we don't really need God, and so we don't worry about it. I've got this life taken care of. I've got this together at least for another day. When you hit rock bottom the only place that you can go to is prayer and supplication. We read in Philippians that prayer and supplication will lead us to a place where we experience a peace that surpasses understanding. The pain brings you to the place of forgiveness where you begin to let go and let God. Then you find yourself lying in the field beyond and wrong that Rumi speaks of. You lie down with this sort of undivided self with this Other, I think Rumi's poem says.
Mark: Just yesterday in our scripture readings, we heard the passage from Isaiah about the lion and the lamb lying down together, and the bear and the calf at peace. I think there's a similar echoing of this mystery in the reconciliation of all these seemingly intractable conflicts that is spoken of in poetic imagery. It’s a sense of wholeness that comes at the far end of the journey of forgiveness.
Robin: I want to amplify this just a little bit more. Because again, the idea is that when we enter into the Christ consciousness we experience a peace that surpasses understanding. That is what I mean when I’m saying the ‘why?’ no longer matters. The desire to be understood and to understand and to get the ‘why?’ is still in the rational realm. It's still in the need for the ego to have control. When we move into that space of grace again, why does it matter? What I see happening in our culture today is the focus on ‘Why was this group victimized? Why are we being victimized?” “Why?” keeps the miracle at bay. We do want to dismantle systems of oppression, but at the same time, how are we as spiritual leaders and spiritual teachers reminding people that while we're dismantling, we also have an opportunity to forgive, to love the enemy, and to move into this deeper reality.
Mark: As we were talking about last week with the love of enemies, the great problem is that the solution of restoring justice, if it comes from an ego level, is historically pretty much one hundred percent guaranteed to create new injustice and new violence. It will just turn the wheel of history, another ‘click’, and then we're in the same nightmare, but with a slightly different configuration. The real dismantling happens when we're released from the realm of ego and control into the realm of love. It doesn't happen by calculating on an ego level how we're going to fix it all and make sure the people that need to come to justice come to justice. It just never really quite works out that way. The idea of “If we just punish enough people”, or set things straight, or whatever form it may take - it never quite works out as we imagine it would on that ego level.
 The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous 14th century Christian text on the practice of apophatic prayer. It is the basis of the contemporary prayer discipline Centering Prayer.
 William Langland, a 14th century English writer.
 The poem:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense.
-Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
“For those who love us and those who hate us, may the Lord God remember in His kingdom.”