Then Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgiven? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” –Matthew 18:21-22 NRSV
Are you and I forgiving people? How much disappointment can we endure from someone before he or she is regarded as unworthy? How many chances do we give a person or people before we never would consider granting forgiveness? How much suffering and sacrifice must we endure before people respond to us favorably?
The Course of Miracles speaks of two different kinds of forgiveness. The first is a “forgiveness to destroy” and the second is a “forgiveness to salvation” or healing. (Song of Prayer, II, III.) The first, forgiveness to destroy, is the most common type we practice albeit unconsciously. “I will forgive you if you promise to change and prove or pledge you will never do that again to hurt me.” It is bargain hunting or shopping for forgiveness. It’s about form and structure maintenance. Perhaps many religious systems personify this with conditional forms of love and forgiveness. We are forgiven and loved if we give up other choices and align ourselves faithfully within the system’s rules. It is forgiveness only if people obey certain precepts and conditions and ante up enough donations, time and talents to prove themselves worthy. There isn’t much of Jesus’ idea of 70 times 7 in this kind forgiveness. It is a forgiveness to manipulate and control. It is a forgiveness to destroy in the name of freedom.
Years ago a priest told me how he considered leaving celibacy and marrying. Up until that time he was loved and respected as a loyal priest and teacher. But once he chose to marry, he would have broken his vows, vows taken at a young age, and would be considered a renegade and disgrace to the profession. Except for his mother, who promised she would love him always and accept him as he was. She knew and practiced, the priest told me, another kind of forgiveness.
In my early years in fundamentalism, I felt loved, welcomed and forgiven as long as I didn’t do certain “worldly things.” It included things like smoking, drinking, dancing, listening to “inappropriate music and the awful sin of having sexual relations before being blessed by the church! It also included attending church services a certain number of times each week. If these things were done or not done, forgiveness would be immediately withdrawn with shame and guilt sent my way. Presently, many of these sinful items have softened somewhat but replaced with condemnation if one doesn’t think as the majority do on theology and politics. Some religious friends may really love and accept you unless you tell them you can’t believe in the literalness of the virgin birth, the Bible and the resurrection. One’s license to teach may be revoked and destroyed. Conversation and dialogue will end! This is what I call a “forgiveness to destroy.”
We tend to commonly use “Forgiveness to destroy” in relationships and family discourse. We make bargains all the time with each other; “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours, but if I scratch yours longer than you do mine, God help you!” We do it with children. We tend to love our children dearly, especially if they are compliant and willing to please, getting good grades and excelling in everything. How many of these come along? We tend to resort to scolding, guilt, fear and all sorts of conditions in order to get children to respond, love us and make us proud. What if we just said more “yes” or “no” without the scolding and let it go?
In adult relationships with spouses and lovers, we do the same thing. I will love you if you quit this and never do that. If you cheat on me I will disown you. If you don’t stop drinking, gambling, reading, staying out late, cooking, cleaning, etc. etc. I will hate you and leave you. We play all sorts of games of conditional forgiveness and love in order to force people to keep bargains we imagine will make us happy. So we are held hostage with freedom destroyed or limited by those we claim we love; colleagues, partners, children, and institutions.
What then is the opposite, a “forgiveness to salvation and healing?” Such forgiveness rests upon the foundation of a solid affirmation of oneself as fully complete, loved and eternally happy. It rests on the understanding that I am totally loved by an Entity beyond material form and bodies. This Entity is that which springs eternal from that which is Eternal; God, Spirit, Bahaoula, or Whatever you may call It. It is confidence that with or without this body and world, I am okay, I am Spirit, I am a “wave in the sea” of Spirit. With this understanding and experience from hours and years of reflection, prayer, meditation and test, one can endure and pass through myriads of tests and trials. One can learn to remain with a deep peace and hope that all is well. Sometimes such experience comes suddenly to hungry souls. However it comes, one will see people and the world around them differently, with a total forgiveness of how they had seen them previously.
In forgiveness for salvation, there are no bargains, conditions, or changes required for love. Whether the partner is a so-called perfect companion or a prisoner in jail, addicted to drugs and sex, one’s love will abide strong. If a child disappoints and fails to meet expectations, the child is loved anyway, even more deeply. If my child makes serious mistakes and is taken to prison, I remain loving and gentle and available. If I spouse cheats and drinks away his life, embarrasses and humiliates me, I can divorce and leave his physical presence but I will always love and cherish his soul, his True Self in love. If my country fails me and never comes up to my expectations, I will love its people anyway, both friend and “foe”, either party, any personality, forever.
In forgiveness for salvation, people aren’t seen to be used to make me happy or sad. People are Spirit bearers whom I want to share with and encourage to open and awaken to Life within. I want to share with them freedom to fly like an eagle, dance like a child, flow like the wind, and fall gently upon earth as the rain. It is an ability to be so assured of self-forgiveness, of my own forgiveness in mistaking Who I was, that I can live with confidence that in whatever situation I find myself, there I can be content and at peace. That’s the goal. To be liked or despised by some makes little difference. As the Bhaghavad Gita says, “Detached from external contacts, he discovers joy in himself; joined by discipline to the infinite spirit, the self attains inexhaustible joy. …. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing, the disciplined one who knows reality should think, ‘I do nothing at all.’”
Forgiveness for salvation is letting go; of control, of mortality, of acceptance of whatever comes as an opportunity to grow, expand, and go deeper in freedom. Practice then daily detachment by sitting quietly, watching the multitude of thoughts, images and concerns float by until peace returns, tears perhaps flow, release is felt, and forgiveness arrives fresh and alive for self and all you will meet.
Once there was a great Teacher in the East who was well respected and loved by the community. One day a 15 year girl was discovered by her parents to be pregnant. She told them the father was the respected Teacher. The parents were furious, told the community of the hypocritical spiritual Teacher, and suddenly his reputation was ruined. No one came to see or learn from him. When the girl’s baby was born, the parents took it to the Teacher’s ashram and left it for him to raise. The Teacher found one trusted relative who agreed to come and be the child’s nurse and help him care for it. A few years went by and the child was growing into a beautiful specimen. The teen age girl, now a young woman at age 19, could take it no longer. She told the truth to her parents, of how it was not the Teacher but a neighbor boy she had been experimenting sexually with and found herself pregnant. She pleaded with her parents to forgive her and the Teacher. So the parents and the daughter walked to the Ashram and confessed to the Teacher their awful mistake. The Teacher simply smiled, gave the child back and went on once again with his life of teaching. The Teacher knew and taught “forgiveness to salvation.”
Be aware of your thoughts and actions this day. If you see yourself bargain shopping, practicing forgiveness to destroy, just be aware of it. Observe, then laugh at it, tickle it, and don’t beat yourself up. Understand yourself as a small child beginning to walk; if you fall down, gently help the child up again, and guide it along the way. In time, and this is what time is for, you will experience a deeper peace, a richer love, and more thorough forgiveness, with a wider smile of happiness.
Namaste to all!