Sometimes we veer off course. It happens to the best and the worst of us. An adroit reader responding to a post about apologies last week commented, “I wish I could go back and UNDO a few of my sorries.”
Boy, do I identify with that. I’ve made choices I wanted God not to forgive so much as to magically erase from history, as if they never happened. If I’m honest about it, though, my desire to undo the past reveals a little unfinished business.
I come from a faith tradition (Christianity) that teaches anyone can be forgiven. We don’t deserve it, but by grace we can receive it. The only condition is that we forgive others who did us wrong. Now that is easier said than done, and I do not want to trivialize how difficult forgiveness can be, but other traditions have a somewhat higher bar. The Jewish tradition teaches that one must make amends and receive forgiveness from those harmed before seeking God’s forgiveness. The Twelve Step tradition encourages folks to recognize their wrongs in the Fourth Step and to make amends for them in the Ninth Step.
We Christians can look right past that amends step. I regularly practice religious confession to a priest, which is a lot like a Fourth Step and a little bit like the vidui, or prayers confession at Yom Kippur. The Episcopalian practice makes me think hard about my resentments and releasing them in acts of forgiveness. But the religious practice doesn’t require me to look as hard at repairing the harm I caused. Of course, I don’t really want to do that anyway, but I can’t help wondering about the wisdom other traditions recognize in making amends.
The conclusion I reached is God doesn’t revise history. He builds on it, using all the crumbs and brokenness for some good. When we make amends, we build on our own history, taking something that fell short and lifting it up a notch or two. It is possible to feel peace with the past, but also to feel disconnected from it. I speak from personal experience on that count. I imagine that making amends builds a bridge to that past and redeems it, so that it is no longer something I wish never happened or that I could do over.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner poetically asserts that it is only by embracing our offenses that we can transform them to good and be reconciled to our past.
We go down into ourselves with a flashlight, looking for the evil we have intended or done—not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover the holy spark within it. We begin not by rejecting the evil but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do. This is the only way we can truly raise and redeem it.
We receive whatever evils we have intended and done back into ourselves as our own deliberate creations. We cherish them as long-banished children finally taken home again. And thereby transform them and ourselves. When we say the vidui, the confession, we don’t hit ourselves; we hold ourselves.
Join the conversation. Can you find a holy spark in the meanest, most hurtful things you have done?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.