Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Letting the Past Be Past

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Is it difficult for you to forgive? To let the past be past? It is for me. Nearly impossible sometimes. I’m a little like the elderly Virginian woman who lived to see her beloved Richmond occupied by Union troops after the American Civil War. The matron was walking down a Richmond street when she tripped over a step and fell. A Union soldier courteously helped her up.

“How very kind of you, young man,” she said acidly. “If there is a cool spot in hell, I hope you get it.” (Ouch.)

Maybe it was still a bit early for her to let go of those deep-seated resentments. But angry and bitter lives are never the goal.

A beautiful legend tells of an African tribe that ritualizes forgiveness. When a tribe member acts irresponsibly or unjustly, the offender is taken to the center of the village. All work ceases and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused. Then the tribe bombards the rejected person with affirmations! One at a time, friends and family enumerate all the good the individual has done. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with some detail and accuracy is recounted. All their positive attributes, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. Finally, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the outcast is welcomed back into the tribe.

What a beautiful ritual of restoration. They replace hurt with happiness; pain with peace. Once again they are family. The rejected one is restored and the village is made whole.

Paul Boese has said, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” As brothers and sisters in our global village, is letting go of those resentments really an option?

-- Steve Goodier

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