LETTING GO To accept the freedom of a better future we have to first rid ourselves of anger
Forgiveness lets go of bitterness and resentment
The longer I live the more convinced I am that society is festering with anger because of an inability to let go of the past. It is certainly true in the North.
I'm suggesting it's just as true south of the border. There is an irrational anger which poisons so many discussions I hear on Newstalk and RTE and on TV.
I now plan and choose what I listen to. A constant barrage of anger and negativity destroys even the sanest of listeners. It's up to me to know how much I can take; my well-being is my responsibility.
There can be, of course, a justifiable anger which is perfectly healthy. Sexual abuse of children; attempts to cover up that abuse; the senseless waste of public money; blatant hypocrisy in Church or State; violence of any kind and pushing drugs on vulnerable young people, should make us mad.
It is right to be angry with the injustices we had to endure in the past. Society was ill-divided. The ruling classes had all the power and wealth.
Churches made us feel like dirt most of the time. God was portrayed as a horrible, mean tyrant. We were controlled by fear, guilt and lies.
However, society has moved on; mostly we are genuinely trying to create a new society free of sexism and racism and with less injustice. It will not happen in an instant and it is not happening quickly enough; but it is happening. Irrational self-righteous anger will do nothing to make it happen.Guilt
One of the few things I can honestly admit to in my own horribly ordinary life is that I have unlearned as much of the guilt and suppressed anger as I could.
I have tried, with limited success, to highlight injustice and sin in the Church. I hope I have communicated a loving, compassionate, forgiving God. I know I have grown enough to leave the past behind.
I am more aware than ever that I should not live in the past. Richard Rohr says that deliberately refusing to forgive is irrational control in itself. It is saying: "I will not forgive you because I don't want you to be happy. I want you to feel guilt and misery. I have power because I am a victim and I'm holding tight to that victimhood."
Put like that, it is immature to go on holding on to anger and bitterness. If I refuse to forgive I am hurting myself, not the perceived perpetrator. I agree with James Baldwin who said: "Not everything that is faced is changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced." Richard Rohr agrees: "We all need to apologise and we all need to forgive, for humanity to have a sustainable future. Otherwise, we are controlled by the past, individually and corporately."
Forgiveness is to let go of our futile hope for a different past. The past cannot be changed.
We need to grow up and accept the freedom of a better future instead of fulminating about the injustices of the past, perceived or real. We need to learn to be more grateful for what we have instead of being bitter and angry about what others have.
We need to learn to forgive ourselves and when we do we will discover we can forgive others, especially those in positions of responsibility, more readily.
During Covid 19, Fr Jim Cogley, a well-known priest who specialises in magnificent wood art, used lockdown to share what he called 'Postings'. It turned out to be essentially a reflection on his spiritual journey so far. He has many insightful and helpful suggestions. Here is part of what he shared this week on the need to forgive.
While Jim Cogley was serving as a sea chaplain, the passengers had an opportunity to visit a communist museum which contained artefacts and information from that era.
They were guided by a woman in her early seventies who gave a presentation which was really a description of her life under communist rule. It was a harrowing story which shocked all of them.
One of the party asked how she now felt about the perpetuators and the collaborators who had taken the best years of her life. Her reply was quite astonishing because this is what she said:
"Everybody in life is called to bear witness to the resilience of the human spirit. We all have to learn to be greater than whatever is done to us, what life throws at us, or even what we have done ourselves.
"The most important lesson of my life has been to practice the art of forgiveness.
"If I had not learned to forgive I would still be in prison and the one guarding me would not have a communist uniform but would be wearing my own clothes.
"Had I not forgiven I would still be in jail and be my own jailer. Communism is dead and gone, and thank God for that, but why should I allow them to have the last say over my life. It is by forgiveness that I have set myself free."
Fr Cogley comments: "One thing I want to say about forgiveness is that it's something we all believe in until we're hurt and then we discover just how difficult it can be. The word resentment means to hold on to hurts.
"With resentment I give the person I least like, permission to occupy rent free space in my head.
"Understood for what it is, forgiveness is like serving an eviction order and reclaiming my own head space.
"The problem with holding a grudge is that it shackles us to our offender and we become their hostage. Forgiveness alone is the key that can set us free.
"Forgiveness is not forgetting what has happened and letting the other off the hook.
"It is not making excuses for the other because we only excuse what was not meant.
"It is not pretending that we are not angry but it is being bigger than our anger.
"It is not condoning behaviour that is unacceptable.
"It is not reconciliation since that is a choice involving all parties.
"It is acknowledging the hurt that is and by choosing forgiveness not to live in the past, but to move on with our lives."
Jonathon Lockwood with great wisdom wrote: "Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness but because you deserve peace."
Do that and you will soon realise that to forgive is to set a prisoner free and you will discover that the prisoner was you.
The dieter's prayer
When you think about it, we are all inordinately attached to things we cannot do without.
It may be over-eating or shopping; we can be addicted to the newest, the latest and the hottest. Others are inordinately obsessed by technology, golf or football. And don't forget the really destructive addictions like alcohol, gambling, fame, power or drugs.
Deep down I know that healthy living happens only when I face my demons and learn to live peacefully in the real world without artificial aids.
That may be the simplest definition of addiction - anything we use to fill the void inside us that we ought to face but are unable to do so.
During lockdown many of us realised how addicted we are to food. I was forced to look at myself differently when a friend sent me The Dieter's Prayer. It wasn't very subtle.Lord, grant me the strength that I may not fall Into the clutches of cholesterol At poly-unsaturated I'll never mutter For the road to hell is paved with butter. Cake is cursed and cream is awful Satan is hiding in every waffle. Teach me the evils of hollandaise Of pasta, salt and mayonnaise As for crispy chicken from the South - Lord if you love me shut my mouth.