It’s almost spring! The morning temperatures are consistently mild enough now for reflection and prayer from my rocking chair on the lanai. On days like today when I have no particular commitments other than laundry and groceries, I can spend as much time as I like in this heavenly spot.
During this time of Lent, we read a lot about forgiveness and reconciliation. We use those terms together so often that we sometimes think they are the same thing. We know that we need to forgive others, ourselves included, and we need to ask for forgiveness of God and of others whom we have wronged in some way. We talk about “forgive and forget” but acknowledge that the former is easier than the latter.
Reconciliation is another matter. It is restoring right relationships. It’s not enough to ask (and receive) forgiveness; we have to make things right again with God and with the person or persons whom we have hurt. That may take the form of an apology, a word or action that heals the hurt, or a promise not to repeat the hurtful action. How many times do we just “forgive and forget” and then let the relationship flounder?
The prophet Ezekiel tells us: “Turn, turn back from all your crimes, that they may not be a cause of sin for you ever again. Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezek. 18:30-31)
During this time of Lent, we might ask ourselves if there are relationships that need restoring and try to find ways to begin to rebuild what is broken. Is there a family member with whom we have not spoken in months or years? Have we drifted apart from friends who are honest enough to let us know when we are wrong? Do we remain aloof from those whom our society is hurting by neglect or inequality? How do we take steps to restore right relationships?
In Ostriches, Dung Beetles, and Other Spiritual Masters: A Book of Wisdom from the Wild (Orbis Books, 2009), Maryknoll Sister Janice McLaughlin uses the baobob tree as a metaphor for healing and reconciliation. Her meditation includes questions that I am paraphrasing here:
- How did I feel when I was wronged in the past? We may feel hurt, defeated, uncertain of the future, or robbed of self-confidence.
- Did I seek revenge? We may have responded by talking ill of the person who hurt us or by ending the association with this person or situation.
- Did I forgive? We may have forgiven the person in our heart but it took considerably longer to forget the hurt.
- How did I forgive? It may have taken a lot of prayer and time.
- Was I able to reach out to the person who hurt me to make things right again? We may still be struggling with this one, especially if the wrong happened months or years ago.
In our failed attempts at forgiveness and reconciliation, we can remember that we believe in a merciful and compassionate God who always forgives us. With the psalmist we pray,
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
The Lord is good to all, compassionate toward all your works. (Psalm 145:8-9)
I leave you with this hymn about forgiveness and reconciliation composed by David Haas in 1988. (You can find a performance of this hymn by googling the title and composer.)
Deep within, I will plant my law, not on stone, but in your heart.
Follow me; I will bring you back. You will be my own, and I will be your God.
1. I will give you a new heart, a new spirit within you, for I will be your strength.
2. See my face, and see your God, for I will be your hope.
3. Return to me, with all your heart, and I will bring you back.