Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.
- Anne Lamott
A friend of mine recently posted this on her Facebook status. Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors and coming to grips with my own past one of my greatest challenges. So this really touched me.
Forgiveness is both about me and others. I have to forgive myself and those who wrong me. As Anne Lamott points out so well, it’s about coming to terms with my unchangeable past, both my actions and the actions of others.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time coming to terms with my actions. With letting go of the guilt and not living in regret. I did much wrong, and yet that past is filled with blessings that came out of the wrong I did. I still struggle with regret, with opportunities missed or squandered. But I can forgive myself.
I can usually forgive others. And sometimes easily, or relatively easily. Even for some pretty bad things. My problem is that I can’t forget. Being reminded just brings the hurt or anger back, and I have to go through forgiving again. Over time, it becomes easier and eventually the pain fades.
But some things don’t work like that. They always hurt, and they always will. My struggle is how to move forward, knowing that those memories will always be there and will always be painful, but knowing that I cannot change the past and that the past is not my present nor my future. It’s a challenge to not allow those feelings to continue to affect my relationships. To remind myself of forgiveness, despite the memory. It is so hard to let go of some things which hurt us, even though by doing so we only hurt ourselves over and over.
I don’t really know what to do about it. I think it’s normal. And we find ways to deal with it or we let it continue to screw up our lives. I just sometimes wish there were a way to truly forget. Forgiveness is having to remember, but let it go. To really know that the past is the past.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Spring is my favorite season by far and it is well underway here. Trees are budding and flowers blooming. Bees are everywhere. Life is emerging from the gray and brown winter.
As the seasons change, I remain in the midst of transition. I am still jobless, but financially ok for some time yet. I am slowly moving toward realizing some of my own dreams for my life, trying to let go of the fears that have held me back. I am feeling my way into and through what is proving to be a remarkably complicated relationship; one intended to be totally uncomplicated. But, and I’ve known this for a long time, all relationships are complicated, at least if they are rooted in genuine care and love.
Spring reminds me of the fundamental generosity of life. Scarcity exists when we become selfish, when we focus solely on our own wants and needs rather than understanding where we fit in the beautiful unity of creation. Jealousy emerges when we fail to realize that there is an infinite source of love in each of us to give to one another.
Life is gift. This was the theme of a stewardship campaign at my former parish. It echoed a theme of my priest who often referred to God as the Generous One. God’s very being is Love and love is generous. Creation isn’t so much a work of God as it is the natural result of God’s nature. It is total gift, total generosity.
During Lent, I’ve been trying to give love with this attitude. With no regard or expectation of return. To just give. To give because there is no limit to the love within me because that love draws from the infinite spring of God’s own being. I don’t know that I’m being especially successful, but I’m trying. And that is all we can really do. Try. But we can choose to try harder or not. And surrounded by the glory of Spring, the reminder of the generosity of life itself, I know that I need to try harder.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
A very special someone gave me a copy of Living Without Fear for Christmas, one of the books on my Amazon wish list. I’m reading it not straight through, but more like a devotional. Little bits at a time. Giving me enough to chew and think on for a while.
I realize that I live much of my life with fear. And many of my actions are taken in response to fear. Fear of being hurt. Fear of failure. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of not having enough. So very many things of which to be afraid. Rationally, I know that most such fears are baseless. Either the risk is so small it’s not worth considering, or the result so unimportant in the grander scheme it’s foolish to let it shape my life.
My life is littered with missed opportunities and with second-bests, because of fear. At the root of much of this fear is worry about what others think, about how I measure up in their eyes. In that way, I live not for myself, but for them. I let them tell me of what I should be afraid.
There is no easy way, that I know of, to simply cast out that fear. Even knowing that it is irrational does little to remove its power. I know that the more I rely on my own inner sense of worth, the less fear I feel because the less I look to others for validation. But that only works for some fears.
What if I could live without fear, what would I do? Even though I cannot eliminate fear, just thinking about that question for a few minutes is liberating and powerful. I can, for a moment, contemplate life without fear.
What would I do? I would be more bold, more friendly, speak out more, have more pride. I would plunge wholeheartedly and without reservation into going back to school. I would take an art class. I would dance. I would stand up for myself more.
Life without fear is pretty impossible. But stopping to think about what it might be like gives me a vision of the true potential of this one human life. Maybe, if I can remind myself of this, I can begin, bit by bit, to live into this authentic vision of who I am called to be.
Friday, March 06, 2009
When my first born daughter was just a toddler, we lived on a university campus as staff. Our apartment was in a sprawling Georgian Colonial style residence hall housing hundreds of freshmen women. The building was built with huge wings stretching off to either side, five stories high. Not only was it an imposing structure, but its length gave it huge lawn space. Our entrance was a great set of double doors in the center of the building facing away from the Quad. Only we had keys to these doors, with the result that our daughter had a huge yard to play in, all to herself, since students never came that way. As a stay-at-home dad for the first two years of her life, I loved watching her run back and forth.
When we would come in at night from being out to dinner or visiting friends, she would run ahead of us, down the sidewalk that bisected that great open space. With no trees, she had a clear view of the starry sky. On those occasions when the moon was somewhat lower in the sky she would run toward it, chasing it, never understanding fully how it always ran ahead of her. She was convinced she could catch it.
A gifted friend of mine who is a pastor recently preached about reconciliation and relationships. What is reconciliation, how we achieve it. Whether or not it’s always possible. Sometimes I feel like seeking reconciliation or pursuing relationship is like chasing the moon. You can see clearly to the goal, but try as you might, you don’t ever reach it.
I’ve had remarkable moments of reconciliation in my life. The most remarkable is that which my ex-wife and I achieved, a friendship and relationship which puzzles all those closest to us, family and friends. I’ve also known incredible relationships. The time spent caring for and conversing with my mother over the months of her cancer left me with an understanding of who she was and the depth of her love that I couldn’t have imagined.
But sometimes reconciliation seems impossible and relationships seem destined for failure. I think that it is perhaps a reflection of the unique otherness of each of us. In one sense, we will always be strangers to one another. None of us can have the same experience as another or hear the bare thoughts of another. And yet we grope toward each other in a desire to share, to feel another’s presence, to give and receive love, to be with another. It’s the way we are made.
How much of myself do I give up in seeking reconciliation or relationship? There are those who would say none. But I don’t agree. In the face of our own love and care for another, and that other’s needs, we do yield up some of what we desire in order to meet those needs. I can remain true to myself and yet find ways to live with others. How far do I go with that? I know that I will know it when I have gone too far. But what about before that? How do I know what is just selfishness on my part and not a true desire to take care of myself? I don’t think I have a good way to answer that.
I do know that I like chasing the moon. And I know that sometimes you do actually catch it.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I began Lent with a bang by going to church twice. Once to my parish and once with a friend to his Roman Catholic parish. I certainly had ample opportunity to reflect on what this season might mean for me this year.
Several years ago I ended the traditional Lenten practice of giving up something. Sweets. Chocolate. Starbucks. Movies. Eating out. I’ve had friends give up all sorts of things. And while I used to do, it really didn’t touch anything within me. I really don’t want to give up my chocolate if it isn’t going to result in spiritual growth!
I have a friend who is a pastor in Richmond. She is giving up God. Getting rid of God. Her discipline is rooted in Meister Eckhart’s prayer – God, help me to get rid of God. She wants to relinquish her notions and presuppositions and understandings of God in order to have a deeper and more authentic experience of who God really is, rather than what we make God to be. This sounds good, but to be honest, like too much work for me. That sounds lazy, and it is. But like New Year’s resolutions, it’s pointless for me to set out on a path which I know I can’t stick to for forty days.
So I know what I’m not going to do, but not what I’m going to do. Yet. I do know what I want to accomplish. Lent is a time for me to reflect on myself. Jesus spent his forty days coming to understand who he was and what his purpose was. That’s a tall order for me, and I don’t know that I want the challenge of finding my purpose, but I can take baby steps. I can seek to better understand who I am.
Probably the most recurrent theme in what I write, what I pray about, what I contemplate, is love. A friend recently posted a note on her Facebook page which talked quite a bit about love.
We believe we are hurt when we don’t receive love. But that is not what hurts us. Our pain comes when we do not give love. We were born to love. …. The world has led us to believe that our well-being is dependent on other people loving us. …. The truth is our well-being is dependent on our giving love. It is not about what comes back; it is about what goes out. --Alan Cohen
I wonder what would happen if
I treated everyone like I was in love
with them, whether I like them or not
and whether they respond or not and no matter
what they say or do to me and even if I see
things in them which are ugly twisted petty
cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept
all that and turn my attention to some small
weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on
that until it shines like a beam of light
like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust
it to burn away all the waste which is not
never was my business to meddle with.
- Ivor Smith-Cameron, Pilgrimage, An Exploration Into God
So maybe this is where I start my Lent. In seeking to give love without return. This is maybe hardest of all. But I think Alan Cohen is right – we are born to love. Our existence comes out of unimaginable, infinite, total generosity. Our being is in the image of Love. May I learn to see myself as this – a creature with the sole purpose, the single goal, of love.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Back when I was young, in high school, as difficult an experience as that was, life made sense. There were pretty straightforward rules and everyone pretty much knew where they belonged and where they stood in the scheme of things. You knew the rules of relationship – to whom you could speak and where you could go. This didn’t change much in college, except that those years were marked with an increasing struggle for self-identity. As my life history attests, I chose to create an identity that was not authentic. But that’s another topic.
After college, as my world continued to expand, those old rules seemed to break down. Life became more fluid and confusing in a way. Freer actually. But freedom can involve fear. Rules, even if you don’t like them, are clear. Freedom is not. It was the death of my mother, far too young, in my early adulthood, that upended my understanding of the way the world worked. I found everything I believed about family, relationships, God, purpose, everything, completely challenged. And I grew a great deal during that time. I came to see things more clearly for what they were and less what the world and other people said they were. I learned to define more earnestly for myself what was important. My coming out, 14 years later, was a sort of end point of that process. Not that I don’t continue to challenge myself to authenticity, but that was a watershed moment unlike any other.
I find myself now at a point of new craziness. Someone very close to me calls it a time of things undefined. I’m happy to have resolved issues around this very significant relationship, but only to bring up others. At moments things seem so clear and at others not so much. I could do with a transfiguration moment. The bright light, shining clothes and faces, the voice from heaven. No mistaking what was going on there. I would like to know what I am looking at. But I don’t. I don’t want to get hurt, and yet there is some hurt. And honest relationship can’t exist without that risk. It involves giving a part of yourself into the keeping of another. That’s true no matter what the relationship, but especially where romantic feeling or love are concerned. I can only go forward in honesty, but at times it is hard to so expose myself. I have to trust in my own love for myself and another and know that no matter what, all will be well.