Courage

We have been fortunate in having two examples of courage to think about recently. Felix Baumgartner’s descent from space was spectacular and caught the imagination of the world’s media. As someone who finds it difficult to climb a ladder, I have no hesitation in calling him a very brave man — but I have no wish to emulate his bravery. The arrival of Malala Yousafzai at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham reminds us of another kind of courage: the daily courage of a young girl determined to become educated and ready to risk the wrath of the Taliban. For me, education involved no risks at all, but I’m such a coward, I’m not sure I would have  been able to live with a death threat for going to school.

Two different people, two different kinds of courage, both of them equally impossible for me and probably for many of my readers. There is a third kind of courage, and it’s worth thinking about. Forgiveness, given and received, is not the act of a weakling, an easy way out of a difficult situation. To accept forgiveness we need to acknowledge our responsibilty for wrongdoing. It wasn’t the woman who forced you to eat the apple, Adam, it was your own gluttony and desire to have something forbidden you. Equally, to forgive others, we have to admit that the wound dealt us is not the whole story: we have consciously to refuse to allow either ourselves or the other to be imprisoned by our shared history. Some of the stories of reconciliation and forgiveness following the Second World War are truly inspiring: the former prisoner of war and his Japanese captor shaking hands; the Holocaust survivor gently reminding his children that the lesson to be learned from the death camps is not what Germans did to Jews but what human beings are capable of doing to one another.

When we look at our own lives, we are often ashamed of the pockets of unforgiveness we find. Are we really so small? Do we need to cling to that old hatred? We all have different ways of coping with such challenges. If we apologize for everything, we don’t need to apologize for anything. If we don’t want to admit we’re wrong, we can cut the other person off. Even if it’s something as trivial as disagreeing with another’s opinion, we can just ignore them. Every blogger knows that when a reader is irritated or annoyed by an opinion expressed — or sometimes, the failure to express an opinion the reader would like to see — there is often a little huff, and the reader stops reading the blog. It’s payback time!

René Girard has written movingly of the dynamic of forgiveness, of the importance of not passing the poison on. Every time we look at a crucifix, we are reminded of the way in which God deals with sin and failure. The Cross was Jesus’ way of not passing the poison on — a supremely brave, as well as forgiving, act. That is the kind of courage we all need.

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13 thoughts on “Courage”

  1. You raise some very interesting (and true!) points Sister. One of my worries, when it comes to forgiveness, is that it’s all very well forgiving someone I never see, for something they have done in the past – but really, until I’m placed in the same space as them, I cannot know for absolute certain if my forgiveness is real and true. (although, when then faced with such a person, it is a delight to discover that is the case, and enables a little self-trust.) Whereas forgiveness of someone I see regularly, who continues to periodically cause hurt, is much harder, because their presence in my life is a continual reminder to my responsibility to truly forgive, and the fact that it’s not so easy when I still have to put up with the hurt.

    And yes, the courage to accept forgiveness means accepting fault, and no one really likes to say “mea culpa” in all honesty.

    Most of us, if pressed, might be willing to die for someone we love. But could many of us die for someone who has done us a mortal wrong? And yet, Jesus did that very thing just because He loves us… As you say, the kind of courage (and love) that we all need.

  2. I read today’s post out loud to my husband… we are moved to thoughtful silence. My comment today is to simply listen… and learn. And to give thanks.

  3. The issue with forgiveness isn’t whether it’s genuinely felt or whether it’s conditional, it’s our intention when forgiving.

    God forgives us unconditionally, his mercy is infinite. But, we being human, may in some cases, not be capable of unconditional forgiveness, not without the passing of time, healing and prayerfully asking for the strength and courage to lay our wounds at the foot of the cross and to move on. To forgive others and most importantly, ourselves for having carried a grudge for so long.

    But, Dr Rowan Williams reminded us a year or two ago, that sometimes by forgiving to easily, we may give more pain to the hurt caused – we haven’t fully worked through the aftermath and we may not be in a position to fully accept that the offender is penitent.

    It’s to easy to say to someone who has been hurt or damaged that they should pull themselves together, forgive and forget. That’s almost impossible. We will always bear the scars of that hurt – we need time and space to heal before real, forgiveness has the space to kick in.

    The whole subject of forgiveness to my mind comes into perspective through Sacramental Confession – Yes, even we Anglicans need Sacramental Confession. It’s an experience of the Holy Spirit received to wipe away our pains and sorrows and hurts in joy and wonder at our reconciliation with God, with others and with ourselves and our past.

  4. Thank you for all your comments.

    Some of you will know that I’ve said several times that forgiveness isn’t necessarily a once-for-all act. We may have to forgive the same offence again and again, living in a state of forgiveness, if you like; and very few of us ever have the assurance of feeling we have forgiven.

    Again, forgiveness isn’t the same as forgetting. I like to use the image of the wounds on the Body of the Risen Christ. They are the wounds sin dealt and they are marked on his Body for all eternity, but they are now transformed. They have become channels of grace and healing. He can never forget us — we are, as the prophet Isaiah said, ‘graven on the palms of his hands’.

  5. I struggle with forgiveness I seem to be doing alot of it lately and sometimes feel I am a door mat which I also struggle with. I have a situation which I am struggling
    with at the moment. I didn’t start it but it looks like
    I will have to make amends and forgive. Does that make
    it anything for a quiet life?

  6. There are several different strands in your comment, Susan.

    Letting oneself be a doormat isn’t right. Sometimes one has to knuckle down under some very unsatisfactory situations, but that isn’t the same as placating others at the expense of self. Remember, God doesn’t make junk. Each of us has a right to our own opinions, own identity, etc. Sometimes we have to challenge others’ treatment of us, otherwise we end up colluding with bullying. Sometimes we have to accept that we are in the wrong and must back down, otherwise we end up bullying others. It takes discernment to know the difference.

    Forgiveness isn’t something we can do unaided. Most of us are very bad at forgiving. We put the other on probation; or we go over the source of offence and pick at it until we destroy our own peace as well as the other’s. I’m afraid there’s no magic answer. If it is any comfort, the community here will keep you in its prayers as you try to do the right thing — whatever that turns out to be.

  7. I have a friend who once hurt me a great deal. It took me years to forgive him, but when I did (and myself for getting into the situation) our friendship became stronger than most others I have. In learning to understand each others perspective, however painful, we not only forgave, but became closer than ever. It’s a reminder to me that forgiving is a blessing, and not just about moving on.

  8. Each day as I pray the Lord’s Prayer and recite, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, I feel the degree to which I fail in forgiveness, and ask the Lord then and there for the grace to forgive others. If I must wait of the Lord’s forgiveness till I am able to forgive others… We rely completely on His mercy.

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