Reflections to start the week
Monday, December 9, 2013
Let it go.
My own spiritual journey has shown me that I have a remarkable skill for remembering slights and injuries from years, even decades, past. I am really good at it. These memories are commonly known as resentments, which literally means “feeling again” or “feeling backward.” It is a grasping, clinging, retrospective frame of mind. It’s opposite, I imagine, is forgiveness, which literally means “giving forward”. As such, forgiveness is oriented toward the future, and the opposite of holding on. This spirit of generosity, of letting go, is in my own life a growth opportunity. Disclaimer: I can’t claim to know much about it, or to practice it well.
But I’m thinking about it a lot this week, because of one of the stories I’ve heard about Nelson Mandela, in accounts that have aired as our global community honors his life and ministry and witness. An interviewer asked him how he felt upon leaving Robben Island (Capetown’s version of Alcatraz) where he had been held for 27 years. The interviewer asked him about whether he harbored anger towards his captors.
My wife, Frances and I, were privileged to visit that island a few years ago. We saw the small cell which was Mandela’s home for those years. We saw the quarry where he and others labored, breaking rocks in the hot sun. Our tour guide had been a prisoner under apartheid. He showed us how the prison was designed to preclude any view of Capetown, just a few miles away. Prisoners might well have been on the other side of the globe. Our visit to that prison helped me understand the significance of the question asked of Mandela. If ever there was a case for justified anger and resentment, this would be it.
Mandela said that, of course, he felt anger towards his captors, for all kinds of reasons. But he indicated that he had chosen not to live in that place. If he lived in resentment (again, literally, feeling backward), then his captors would still hold him captive. He chose another path. He simply said to his questioner: I let it go.
I was embarrassed comparing the monumental injuries experienced by Nelson Mandela with the resentments I savor. How could he “let it go”, let go of those years filled with injury and insult, while I harbored relatively silly slights? Mandela showed us all what it means to move forward. Working with Desmond Tutu, who wrote about this period of transition in a book called “No Future Without Forgiveness“, Mandela charted a course for his country marked by reconciliation. It was not cheap grace. It involved truthful accounting for the injuries over the years. But he demonstrated that what matters is figuring out a way to move forward. Nelson Mandela chose a path of reconciliation when he could have chosen retribution. If he could do that, given what he experienced, I’m guessing I could give it a shot. Not a bad project for the remaining days of this season of Advent.
A great theme in this season of Advent, the beginning of the church year, is the theme of a future, the call to hope. Forgiveness, it has been said, is giving up the hope of a better past. It’s future oriented. I suspect each of us harbor resentments. I’m betting that each of us has caused resentments. One way to honor Mandela is to figure out how to practice forgiveness (and I’m here to tell you it takes practice), to ask it of those we’ve injured, to extend it to those who’ve triggered resentments, to take those resentments to the water’s edge and watch them float down the river, to let them go.
|I’ve known for years that resentments don’t hurt the person we resent, but they do hurt and even sometimes kill us… unfortunately, change and forgiveness don’t come easily for me, but any willingness to let go inevitably comes from pain; and the desire to change changes you, and jiggles the spirit, gets to it somehow, to the deepest, hardest, most ruined parts. And then Spirit expands, because that is true in nature, and it drags along the body, and finally, the mind.
Anne Lamott in “Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith”
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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