Forgiveness: Heart of the Matter for Mission

Don Henely’s song “The Heart of the Matter” talks about forgiveness, even if you don’t love me anymore.   We used that song as a mediation at our liturgy during our Forgiveness Retreat this weekend.   As it played in the chapel, the fifteen of us on the retreat together hung homemade peace cranes on a bare branch.   The visual image as the branch came alive with the color of the birds was stunning.   Perhaps what made it so impressive to us was the hard work and frustration that went into making the cranes.   While I thought I was quite skilled at making paper airplanes and those little triangular “footballs” we used in school, the cranes were surprisingly difficult.

In many ways the cranes symbolized for us the process of forgiveness that we focused on during the retreat.  We watched the film, Power of Forgiveness, which stimulated good discussion on what forgiveness is about and what happens when we fail to forgive.    Did you know that forgiving people have lower blood pressure?

Using guided meditation we examined our hearts to see if we were harboring anger, resentment and bitterness from past hurts that we needed to let go of.   Recognizing that forgiveness is a decision that we can make to begin the healing process without the acknowledgement or apology of the person who hurt us, we each worked on forgiving one person.   Again, not as easy as some of us thought it would be.  Like making the cranes.   

The series of folds were more complicated than you’d think.  The paper didn’t always cooperate and bend and fold as we wanted.  For some the process had to be aborted and started over.   A few couldn’t do it at all.   It required patience and gentleness.  I learned the hard way if you force it, it tears.   But the transformation of a square of paper into a crane is amazing.  

The crane captured for many of us the transformation that happens when a hurt and resulting anger and bitterness are transformed by forgiveness.   The walls of defense come down and the light of love floods in again.   The choking weeds of hate and resentment wither and disappear.  In their place the flowers of relationship with God and others begin to sprout and bloom.

For us as followers of Jesus, this might not even seem possible except for his example.  He preached forgiveness, he told stories about forgiveness (like the story of the Prodigal son) and he literally lived and died forgiveness.   But it didn’t end there because he passed on his mission of forgiveness to his disciples.

As we concluded our time together on retreat, we not only gave thanks for the gift that is forgiveness, but we recommitted ourselves as his followers to carry on the mission of Jesus by being agents of forgiveness.   Again, the paper cranes reminded us of the broader dimensions of forgiveness.   The paper cranes came to worldwide attention through Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on her home in Hiroshima.   She developed leukemia from the radiation and as she made the cranes in the hospital before she died at the age of 12 she became a global symbol of forgiveness, healing and peace.

We realized that forgiveness starts within us and then moves out to our closest, most intimate relationships and then continues to ripple out  to our co-workers, neighbors and even to strangers who cut us off on the freeway.   In fact, the circles of forgiveness expand even further to systems of politics, economics and international relationships.

In a world so fractured by conflict, hurt and anger, perhaps the heart of the matter in our efforts to carry on the mission is forgiveness.   Stay tuned for our next retreat opportunity.