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The Problems of Forgiveness

The Problems of Forgiveness

From today’s Enneathought: “Forgiveness is part of love. Who do you need to forgive?”

Have we talked about forgiveness, you and I? I’m not sure.

I think that in the course of daily life, in the relationships we treasure, in the ways we hurt one another through ill-meant words and actions and thoughtlessness, forgiveness can be a healing gesture of love.

starry globular clusterYou may have read before that Love is my North Star. It is my constant aspiration. It is, I truly hope, the meaning of my life.

And yet I am ambivalent about the notion of forgiveness.


I am ambivalent, first of all, because I think the concept is used in damaging ways. To tell another person they ought to, should, or must forgive someone who has hurt them or others is to try to rush an intimate, deeply interior and personal process of healing or grief or both.

To assume that we agree about the nature of forgiveness is also damaging. For some people, forgiveness goes hand-in-hand with forgetting an injury. Forgive and forget, the aphorism goes. But to admonish someone to forget their own history or the history of a people is hurtful and inappropriate, at best.

“To forgive is to let go of having had a different past,” is a paraphrase of a Martha Beck quotation. In personal terms, this idea of forgiveness is something I can get behind. I can imagine forgiving the worst hurts of my own life by this method.

But what about larger damage? What about the damage done in the United States to indigenous people and to Black people beginning in the Middle Passage and continuing to this day? What would it mean to forgive such atrocities? And how dare current perpetrators or descendants of them demand such forgiveness in the name of “getting over it” or “that happened a long time ago”?

Furthermore, there are paths, religious and spiritual paths that do not place such a high value on forgiveness. And I value and honor those paths.

And yet…

And yet in the yearlong Spinning Gold course I am taking with Briana Saussy, I did an Active Imagination journey in which I found a mirror that allowed me to see with the eyes of Love. It allows me to see the Divine spark, however hidden or guttering, in each person. It gave me a vision of the roots and wings and the fire within everyone.

But how do I reconcile that vision with the damage we do to our Earthly habitat? How do I reconcile that vision with hearing words and seeing evidence of violence and hatred?

But I did have the vision, and I knew it was a vision of love. And Love is the aspiration and altar and household of my life.

monk's hands open, resting in his lapWhich begs the question, What is Love? I have written here before about fierce compassion. About saying No to horrors and to the people perpetrating them. About putting up a hand to say No and to offer protection to the vulnerable.

And so is the question what do Love and forgiveness have to do with one another? I do think that in personal relationships, certainly, forgiveness is a manifestation of Love. It is a way of saying, “You have hurt me. And I love you.” It doesn’t claim not to be hurt. It doesn’t claim to forget. But it asserts love anyway.

And maybe that’s the answer?

To say, “You have hurt me, others, a people. And I will try to see you with the eyes of Love anyway.” “You have done hurt, wrong, made mistakes or been malicious, and I am not saying it is okay, but Love loves you,” and maybe even, “But I love you.”

To say, “I have hurt others or myself. And I will try to see myself with the eyes of Love anyway.” Not to claim that the injury I have done is not there, and not to see myself inflated or deflated by the eyes of ego, but to perceive with the senses of Love. To say, “These things are not okay. They are still not okay, but I love you, Love love you.”

To perceive as Love perceives.

It is hard, so hard. There are people I do not want to see with the eyes of Love, she whined. But I will try.

I will try.

Stones balanced in a photo of sunset

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