Sunday, 13 October 2013

Hauling Out Stones: Reconciling Ourselves

In “Eternal Echoes” John O’Donohue wrote:

“When personal guilt in relation to a past event becomes a continuous cloud over your life, you are locked in a mental prison. You have become your own jailer. Although you should not erase your responsibility for the past, when you make the past your jailer, you destroy your future. It is such a great moment of liberation when you learn to forgive yourself, let the burden go, and walk out into a new path of promise and possibility. Self-compassion is a wonderful gift to give yourself.

And D. Patrick Miller wrote “Never forget to forgive yourself is to release trapped energy that could be doing good in the world.”

I wonder sometimes if we ever reconcile, if we ever put things right with ourselves; I wonder sometimes if the reason we find it hard to move on with our lives and do all that we can to serve our world is because we have never released ourselves from our own shame and guilt. How many of us can honestly say they have become fully reconciled with every aspect themselves?

What I mean by this is how many of us have truly reconciled ourselves with our whole selves? I know I still find it hard to truly forgive myself for the way I have been in my darkest days. For the way I viewed myself, others and the world in which I live. It is hard for me to truly recognise that man today, but I know I must if I am to understand everyone I come into contact with; If I am love them without prejudice; if I am to serve life; if I am to minister, which of course means to serve.

Over the last few days I have been remembering a time of my life, just 10 years ago. I have been re-connecting, reconciling myself with the memory. I see this as a truly religious act; remember religion comes from "religare" which means to re-bind. It is an attempt to reconcile myself with this man, something I feel I must do if I am to truly minister; it is something I must do so as to release me to do all that I can in the world.

The image that has been speaking to me is of a reflection of myself in a shop window, ten years ago almost to the day and the utter hatred I felt for that figure looking back at me. It was initially just a glimpse out of the corner of my eye and then I stopped, I paused and realised just how much I hated the man looking back at me in the glass. Now I know this sounds dreadful but it was a real turning point in my life, from that moment forward things began to change. I am so far removed from that figure today and yet this man was me, is me, but I find it very hard to recognise him and there is a part of me that still cannot love him, that doesn’t want to know him, that rejects him.

Of all the stories that Jesus told I think it is the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (Luke Ch 15 vv 11-31) that speaks most powerfully to me. It is a universal tale that speaks on so many levels about the blessings and troubles with forgiveness and reconciliation. There are three characters in the tale a father and his two sons. The youngest son squanders his inheritance on a hedonistic lifestyle, he loses everything. In desperation he sells himself into slavery and due to a great famine finds himself close to starvation. It is at this point of utter despair and hopelessness that he remembers where he has come from, he remembers his father and reasons that even his father’s slaves have a better life than him. So he returns home to throw himself on his father's mercy, not as his son but as a slave. On hearing he is returning his father rushes to meet him. As his son atones his father does more than forgive him. He kisses him, a beautiful touch of intimacy and orders that the fatted calf be slaughtered and a huge party of much rejoicing be held, to celebrate the return of his son who was once lost but now is found.

The parable of "The Prodigal Son" is a beautiful tale of redemption and forgiveness, but is it a realistic one? If only it was that easy. Well actually there is so much more to this story than has already been discussed, there is another character who does not find forgiveness so easy to come by. There is the other brother who refuses to rejoice and celebrate the returning of his long lost sibling. Quite the opposite in fact, he is angry, he is indignant, he will not reconcile with his brother and is now at odds with his father. In fact he does not even refer to the "prodigal" as his own brother. Instead he names his as “This son of yours” and by doing so disowns him emotionally. He tells his father all he has done for him and yet has received nothing in return for his good and virtuous life. His father pleads with him and then utters the immortal words, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” He tells his older son that all that is his belongs to him and also reminds him that this brother of his has returned from the dead. He reminds him that he is his brother and therefore a part of him. They were all three of them once bound together and now need to be once again reconciled, they need to be re-bound. Reconciliation is a deeply religious act.

I wonder sometimes if I myself have become like the older brother who really would rather not recognise the younger brother who is a part of me. It is not easy to forgive ourselves for our failings. I think sometimes I would prefer to disown that aspect of myself, but I know that this is not the right way, the loving way. I know if I want to truly be of service to this world I need to be fully reconciled with all that I am, so as to be able to love without prejudice. I also need to recognise that in each and every person exists each of the three “Prodigal Son” characters. The one who is returning seeking forgiveness, the one offering forgiveness and the one who can feel rejected and neglected by this expression of love. Reconciliation is a process and one that takes time; it is a long journey but one that is certainly worth embarking upon. It is far from easy, but it is without a shadow of a doubt worth embarking upon.

So how do we begin the journey? How do we forgive ourselves for our own short comings? How do we reconcile every aspect of ourselves? How can we once again be at peace with our distracted hearts and minds? How do we, imperfect as we all are, return home? How do we accept that kiss of reconciliation? How we do we once again accept those aspects of ourselves that have rejected the love offered to us?

Some may ask why do we need to reconcile ourselves? This is all self indulgence; we just need to get on with our lives. Well if only we could. So many people seem to endlessly punish themselves. How often I have heard people in just the last few weeks say that "They are ashamed of themselves" for all manner of small things. I wonder if it is the small things that has caused this feeling or whether it is something much deeper hidden within them. If I have learnt anything in life I have learnt that if we do not forgive ourselves and fully reconcile ourselves with every part of our being we will not be able to fully live in our world and give to our world all that we able to give. The fruits of life are there for all of us to delight in and yet so many still feel unworthy of them, this saddens me.

I have learnt that the journey of reconciliation begins with listening. We need to listen "with ears of our hearts". We need to learn to listen to ourselves and to one another. This allows us to draw closer to one another and to those aspects of ourselves we would rather keep hidden, locked away. This often requires seeking counsel from someone else, someone who can understand in a none judgemental way.

In the Catholic tradition there exists the “Sacrament of Reconciliation”, more commonly known as confession. Now the picture that is often painted of this is that it is an attempt to seek forgiveness from the priest or from God, but there is so much more to it than this. The real gift of this sacrament is that it creates a sacred space where a person can speak openly with another human being about what has been haunting them. By sharing our struggles with another human being we are literally getting them out of our heads and therefore giving these ghosts from the past and or present air to breathe, thus enabling us to see them with new, with fresh eyes. It allows us a new perspective on ourselves and our own lives. It allows us to fully reconcile ourselves with every aspect of our being, something that is difficult nay impossible if attempted alone. This is why intimate friends are so vital, why counsellors and therapists are important and why ministers, priests, rabbis, priestesses and Imams play such a vital role in people’s lives.

We all need a place where we can go, where someone will draw close to us and listen as we come close to who we are in all our hope and despair. Where we can truly reveal all that we are “warts and all and beauty spots too.” Where we can be taken out of our silent isolation, where the stones of our imperfection can begin to be hauled out.

This idea is near perfectly illustrated in the following poem by Nancy Shaffer:

“Hauling Out Stones” by Nancy Shaffer

Once, he said an odd thing:

Forgiving begins with someone

sitting near.

Later, he said, It isn’t for the one

who did the hurting.

It’s the other one who needs it.

One day, without warning,

he wept.

I sat close.

He told an old hurt

in half-sentences and single words

like stones he was coming upon, new;

like tree limbs, broken,

which he needed both arms for hauling aside.

A half-dozen times that summer we sat,

he weeping, hauling out stones,

gathering limbs; I near.

The stones got smaller,

his sentences, longer.

He said, It’s the crying part

I couldn’t do by myself.

And later he said, I feel cleaned out.

A wan smile.

Still later, he said,

I think I’ve done it.

Made a kind of peace, he meant.

He slapped his palm hard against mine.

Laughed. Slapped his palm again.

Reconciliation begins by finding someone we can truly be ourselves with; it begins by finding someone who by drawing close can help us begin to truly reconcile ourselves, which ever son or daughter or father or mother you are. If you are anything like me, which I suspect most people are, you are no doubt a bit of each.

To fully live, to not get weighed down by the past requires reconciliation on every level. To truly be all we can be in this world of ours we must learn to forgive, not to forget quite the opposite actually. We need to remember, we need to re-member, we need to rejoin together all that we are. For me I need to not only learn to smile and love that man who looks back at me in mirror today but the one from 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. For others that might be something different.. That said I firmly believe that reconciliation begins when we draw closer to ourselves and to one another.


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