forgiving, forgiven (four)

"Woman Caught in Adultery" by He Qi
This week our conversation about Christian practices of forgiveness reaches its half-way point. We continue to host readings of scripture along with other readings about the Christian way forgiveness and with our own experience of - and longing for - forgiveness and reconciliation. When we gather the time seems short. We bring many questions and recognize that there are few easy answers. We pray that our discussion is a part of God's transformation of our lives and life together so that we might more faithfully embody the grace of God as it is revealed to us in Jesus. It still strikes me as odd that I have not led an extended conversation about Christian practices of forgiveness in this - or any other - congregation before. I am not sure of the reason for this, though am glad that the time has come.

Here is the worksheet for this week's conversation ...

“The Dance of Forgiveness”

* John 8:1-11. What questions does this story raise for you? What might the story teach us about Christian practices of forgiveness?

* In reflecting on the story of the woman taken in adultery Jean Vanier (“Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John", pp. 139-153) makes the following comments about the need for, and way to, forgiveness. What is your response to Vanier’s insights?

“Sin, then, is the wall constructed around our minds and hearts that prevents us from being open to Jesus, to others and to our deepest self. This wall of sin is strengthened as we consciously refuse to be healed and even try to get rid of Jesus. Sin, then, is being closed up in oneself and in one’s group. It leads to conflict, oppression and all forms of abuse of power. Sin leads to death.”

“As we become conscious of God’s forgiveness we learn to forgive others ... If God forgives us with all the dirt and mess inside of us, then we can forgive others with all the dirt and mess inside of them. The walls that separate us from others begin to fall.”

“Forgiveness is a process. To move from hate to acceptance and love is a long journey. Even when we have been deeply hurt, we can grow into forgiveness ... Do you know that the first movement in the process of forgiveness is not to seek revenge? You are on the road to forgiveness .... The second step in the process of forgiveness is to pray for those who consciously or unconsciously have hurt us .... Another step is to become conscious of who the person is who has hurt us, how he or she came to be as they are ... they, too, have been deeply hurt somewhere. Little by little, we begin to understand them.”

“Forgiveness is at the heart of every relationship. It is the essence of love. Forgiveness, is loving people as they are and revealing their beauty, which is hidden behind the walls they have built around their hearts. Forgiveness is a new force that comes from God. Forgiveness is the road to peace. ‘There is no peace,’ wrote Pope John Paul II, ‘without justice; and no justice without forgiveness.’”

* In “The Dance of Forgiveness, Gregory Jones (“Forgiving as We Have Been Forgiven”, pp. 35-57) says that “We are the heirs of a Christian culture that has forgotten the life-giving ways of forgiveness. In capitulating to the spirit of our age, we have both cheapened forgiveness to a therapeutic absolution of guilt and made forgiveness seem in possible in the face of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ That is to say, we have at the same time made forgiveness too little and too much .... If we are to embody forgiveness in our time, we must first name the double temptation of cheap forgiveness and costly despair.” Which of these two temptations do you find most tempting?

Gregory Jones names six steps that are to be learned if we are to learn the dance of forgiveness. Which of these do you find most difficult? How might we encourage one another to practice these steps in our life together?

1. Truth-telling - “We become willing to speak truthfully and patiently about the conflicts that have arisen.”
2. Acknowledging anger - “We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them.”
3. Concern for the other - “We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God.
4. Recognizing, remembering, repenting - “We recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance.”
5. Commitment to change - “We make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts.”
6. Hope for the future - “We confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation.”

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