Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Till We Have Forgiveness

Last Sunday I sat in church listening to thirty minutes of testimonies in isiXhosa. Every once in a while I'd recognize a word, or some English would  pop in to tantalize me, then I was left in a flurry of liquid syllables again. During a tearful, heartbroken story, a lovely young woman sobbed, "I realized I had to forgive him over and over again. Once was not forgiveness" and the truth again hit me full force.

She is caring for a brother who "cannot do anything for himself." I don't know the details, could be AIDS, especially in a township. What a difficult life, I realized, lay behind the exuberant singing, the rhythmic dancing, and the elegant arms waving Sunday after Sunday from this beautiful sister. 

Forgiveness has been a lot on my mind of late because a story closer to home is charred around the edges for the lack of it. A wedding without an aunt who is like a second mother. A family coming together, but missing nearby members. A sister who will not speak to a sister--with hearts of children turned bitter. The phrase, "Love keeps no record of wrongs" keeps repeating itself in my mind. What an impossible description. Who on earth can love, then?

In my own struggles with forgiveness I have walked the steps of anger, blame, resentment and then realized the oft-repeated truth that not forgiving is to become a slave to the one you cannot forgive. But as my beautiful Xhosa friend observed: once is not forgiveness. She had to forgive over and over, as often as her heart brought it up again. Bitterness is an ugly jailor, but the keys are in our own pockets.

Part of the trouble with forgiveness is that we don't understand what it is: it is a holy, wise, and mystical thing. It is not part of our nature. We are much keener on what we call justice than forgiveness. We are born with "it's not fair" in our DNA. But keeping no record of wrongs sounds just, well, wrong. And stupid.

But it is a God-like stupidity. It reaffirms the good in the worst of us. It turns on the grace full blast. It flings mercy all over like confetti. And it feels good. It feels very good. To the giver and the receiver.

"Till We Have Faces" (TWHF) is my most often read Lewis book. Every time I hear Orual's voice, complaining or angry, wistful or broken, I learn something new about us and our condition. Her pathetic attempts at self-justification and insistence on her love for Pysche ring with disquieting familiarity. Her inner problems and her relationship issues are much like our own internal wars to forgive our culpable "others." 

While the themes of life, death, dreams, reality, and vision are preeminent in TWHF, I hear the forgiveness theme in a minor chord: 

“Death opens a door out of a little, dark room (that's all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet.”

How long do we live in a little dark room of bitterness which cannot forgive, not realizing that there is a great real place where we can meet one another in the light of the True Son?
A place bigger than our own limited perception of right and wrong, fair and unjust--a place more real than what we can see. 

"Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood." (TWHF)

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