In January I decided that I wanted to write a book on forgiveness in 2015. Inspired by discovering that I had learnt how to forgive in 2014 I thought it would be a good challenge.
As the year draws to a close I do indeed have a first (rough) draft of that manuscript. What has surprised me though is that this has turned into a year of forgiveness, reconciliation and letting go.
I have ended up delving deep into myself and finding the sources of my own inability to forgive. It has been a year of growing up in ways that I didn’t even know that I needed to!
I began this project because I thought I had learnt something useful, but it has ended up being far more of a gift to myself.
It has been a tough year; a year of reconfiguration; a year of realignment. In the end probably the most important year of my life so far.
As Christmas approaches I find myself asking what the incarnation means to me this year. The genius of the liturgical calendar means that we get to return to this question every year anew.
This year has been a brutal year for me.
It has been a turbulent year. South African higher education has been particularly volatile; and South African politics has taken some less than ideal turns. Added to being in the US in the height of the build up to primary season – the hate-filled rhetoric has been both persistent and profoundly disturbing.
But the greater turbulence has been internal. There are so many factors it is impossible to name them all, and almost nonsensical to try and unravel any kind of cause and effect.
I know only that it has been a time of entering some of the darkest, most well protected, most vulnerable caverns in my soul.
And I have been reading St Bonaventure; Raimon Panikkar; Ilia Delio; Thomas Merton; Cynthia Bourgeault.
What if the incarnation is not about ‘saving us from our screw ups’ but about the kind of revelation that can only happen in relationship?
My two year old nephew has been a true angel for me in this time. He has no idea what he has done for me – he has just been present.
What if the incarnation is about God’s willingness to show up in our world and extract love from us? Is it any wonder then that we are called to seek out the lowly, the wounded, the poor, the disenfranchised. If we show up for these, the least among us, we will find love.
I am a big fan of Brene Brown. Her work on vulnerability has certainly shaped my own thinking. But I confess that I was dubious about her latest book. The title, Rising Strong, was off-putting. I presumed that she had sold old to populist pressure to tell the ‘victorious’ tale.
I am delighted to say I couldn’t be more wrong.
The central premise is the ‘rumble’ phase. The discomfort of facing into what is actually happening in myself in the moments after I get hooked on something uncomfortable.
The crucial question – what is actually going on? Not what is the instinctual emotional response and what is the story I am telling myself to support my action – but what is actually real.
Do I dare to sit in my discomfort sufficiently long to find what it is in me that is being triggered?
Anything I tell myself about them and what they are doing is most likely rubbish. Knowledge I gain at a later stage after I have recovered from the initial shock of the triggering may be helpful. But I can be sure that any story I concoct, in the absence of new data, in the wake of a triggering incident is a crock of shit.
Life is too short for story telling – can we just commit to dealing with what is real?
The image of light dispersed by a prism has been with me for a few weeks. It struck me as a powerful metaphor for different spiritual traditions.
We sit on the refracted side of the prism (the rainbow side). Each tradition explores its own colour of light. Each tradition has developed a set of rules which allow the followers to get to a more or less true approximation of resonance with the actual frequency of that particular light path.
Not all traditions are equal and not all facilitate the real resonance of all to the same degree, but all are striving to the same end.
Some traditions encapsulated more frequencies of light than others, and so do hold a greater part of the whole, but none – not one – holds everything. Not one holds the true nature of unrefracted white light – that is a gift from God.
I had an email conversation with an acquaintance today about Centering Prayer and the Ignatian tradition. Each sits in a slightly different space in the spectrum. Each helps followers to come to greater resonance with that segment of the spectrum i.e. each helps people into deeper relationship with God.
When we find that sweet spot of resonance in a particular tradition it is so exciting – and it is so tempting to begin to proclaim that you have found the way to others. To those who are sitting in the same section of the spectrum your words may be both encouraging and genuinely helpful. But to those are operating in a different zone your words may be more disorienting and destructive than anything else.
The experience of resonating in the white light is perhaps what Christians call contemplation and Buddhists call enlightenment. Those who live from that space are always characterised by humility. They understand the gift of the tradition which led them to that place, but they know that it is not the only route.
A few days ago my friend and fellow blogger Fran Rossi Szpylczyn posted this quote from Etty Hillesum on her Facebook wall
‘I really see no other solution than to turn inwards and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we first change ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned‘.
Inevitably some of the responses were of the ‘Yes, but…’ kind. As I write this in aftermath of yet another mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. On a day in which British bombs fall in Syria starting within seems trivial at best.
And yet, and yet… I don’t think there is anything else that really counts
Bear in mind that Etty Hillesum was no armchair philosopher. She lost her life at 29 in Auschwitz. This quote from her is in the face of evil of Nazi power.
I am deeply cognisant of the threats we face in today’s world. But perhaps the deepest threat is not to recognise the only real power that we have….
to face into our own woundedness…
To do all we can to resist transmitting our own woundedness on.
Given that most of the awful things that happen are wounded people wounding others, if cannot do what is required to heal ourselves, on what possible grounds do we imagine we will help others?
There really is nothing more important than attending to our own pain. Once we have truly soothed and healed that we can move on. The problem is that most of us do not dare to face into our own pain.