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The Relationship between Trust and Forgiveness

Posted on August 17th, 2012

In discussing trust at Taizé, we found it very difficult not to digress and begin discussing forgiveness.  A lot of the conversation centred around people trusting someone until that trust was betrayed, and then they would not trust them any more.  One member of my discussion group was very emphatic about her belief that trust must be earned and when it is broken, it is our right to withhold trust in the future.  We inevitably ended up talking about forgiveness as this seemed key to allowing trust to be created again.

There’s a section of the well known poem Desiderata which has fascinated me for a long time.  I’ve put the whole poem below for those of you unfamiliar with it, but the line which particularly intrigues me is ‘as far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all people’.  Take a moment to read the poem.

This idea of surrender is a really interesting one.  I was once hurt by someone so deeply that I thought I would be angry forever.  It took me several years to come to terms with my feelings and reaction, and I realised that I really hated this person.  This didn’t sit particularly well with me – I don’t like the idea that I hate someone and it made me unhappy to know that despite my beliefs I was unable to work on this particular issue.

One of the reasons I found it so difficult to forgive this person was because I felt that if I forgave them it would condone their actions, it would mean that my pain was unjustified; but having realised that this was a problem I suddenly let it go.  The person in question had very much moved on, so who was my hate hurting?  Me, and God.

So I came back to this line again: ‘as far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all people’.  I think there’s a really key point here, which came back to me during the discussion with my group in Taizé about forgiveness.  One of the girls was adamant that forgiveness had to be earned and it could be withheld at each person’s discretion.  When I quoted Matthew 21-22 (Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”) she reacted very strongly and said that this wasn’t practical.  In many ways I agree with her, but perhaps our understanding of forgiveness needs to be expanded.

A question I find very important is about prisoners.  If someone has been to prison to pay for a crime, shouldn’t we treat them the way we treat those who have never been to prison when they are released?  Surely the point of prison is to repay society for the crime they have committed.  If I go overdrawn on my bank account and am charged interest, that interest doesn’t carry on being charged once I’m back in credit!  But human beings are so much more complicated.  We find it so hard to forgive and so hard to trust, and the more I think about it, these two so often go hand in hand with each other.

To be a Christian is a hard job.  We’re asked to love everyone (Matthew 22:36-40) and forgive everyone (Luke 6:37).  We’re asked to let go of worldly possessions (Matthew 6:19-20) although the world around us is obsessed with ownership.  We’re asked to trust God even though we can’t see God (Proverbs 3:5).  My students often tell me that they think it’s impossible to love unconditionally, as Jesus taught.  A part of me believes that they’re right, but that doesn’t mean that I give up trying.  I watched some of the rowing during the Olympics and felt so impressed by the athletes who were clearly going to finish last but who carried on going anyway.  Surely God sees us the same way – we may not manage to live up to the ideals set out in the teachings of Jesus, but we try our best and God is there rooting for us just as I was rooting for the rowers at the end of the race!

I know how hard it is to forgive, and I’m certainly not judging anyone for saying that they don’t want to forgive someone who’s hurt them.  Everyone is different, and forgiveness can seem impossible.  But without forgiveness, can there ever be trust?  And without trust, can there ever be peace?

Bóg jest miłością, miejcie odwagę, żyć dla miłości; Bóg jest miłością, nie lękajcie się – God is forgiveness, dare to forgive and God will be with you; God is forgiveness, love and do not fear.

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Trust – Theme at Taizé 2012

Posted on August 16th, 2012

Brother Alois, the prior of Taizé, wrote his letter for 2012 under the title, ‘Towards a New Solidarity’ (http://www.taize.fr/IMG/pdf/120enletter.pdf) and the theme for the Bible study and discussion groups was trust.  While the 17-24 year old groups spent a lot of the week playing trust games, the 25-35 year old groups cracked on with some fairly hefty conversations!

When I arrived in Taizé on the Sunday it was after a long journey.  I’d been travelling for 19 hours and hadn’t slept, so I wasn’t in the best frame of mind for the inevitable queueing that constitutes the arrival at any place like Taizé!  So, in tiredness I looked around at the big groups of happy, laughing people and felt very out of the loop.  I suppose I felt quite insecure and out of place, as did many people.  In fact, Brother Paolo, the British contact brother, welcomed us on the coach with ‘don’t worry about Sunday, it’s chaotic – tomorrow will feel better!’ and several other people said that they just wanted to get back on the bus and go home the same evening we arrived!  Not ideal.

So when we had our first Bible introduction with Brother Matthew on the Monday morning, I had to laugh at the theme of the week – trust!  I found myself thinking that the beginning of the week had demanded that I trust the community, trust the welcome teams, trust myself (especially with my tent erecting skills!) and trust God that all would be well.  And it was so worth it!!!

My discussion group was a really diverse group of people, made up of one Polish, one Swedish, one Dutch, one other English, three German and one Spanish.  As you can imagine we were all coming from different backgrounds and our discussions reflected this.  I’ll write some reflections on these discussions over the next few blogs, but I thought I would start with an overview before getting started.

For now, have one of the chants we sang every day over the week.  Truly beautiful!  It means: ‘All life long, for the Lord I will sing; while I live, I will praise my God.  My joy is in God.’

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The Feast of the Annunciation

Posted on March 25th, 2012

Today is the day in the calendars of most denominations of Christianity that the Annunciation of the Lord is celebrated.  If you’ve not come across this feast day before, this  Troparion (or hymn) from the Orthodox tradition will explain its significance:

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

The messages and lessons held within this event are extensive.  With this one event, found in both Matthew and Luke, we are taught that God has a plan for each of us, that God’s angels are His messengers on Earth, that God is willing to take birth and incarnate for the salvation of all, that Mary submitted to the will of God regardless of the cost to herself and that all things are possible to God.

The Angel Gabriel, speaking to Mary about God’s plans for her, and her acceptance of those plans is an incredible thing.  Thinking about this reminded me of Mother Teresa.  It is impossible to deny that Mother Teresa aimed to put the Gospel into practice throughout her life, and she is internationally revered for this.  But she wrote to a friend of hers, Rev. Michael van der Peet, in 1979 about the absence of God in her life.  In an article on this, Time Magazine said, ‘That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain.’

(Read the article here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1655720,00.html#ixzz1q9SiAYqx)

There seems to be something familiar in this: Mary accepted the role of mother to God incarnate and thereafter was left almost entirely alone (on the surface, anyway!), and Mother Teresa took up her calling to help the poor of Calcutta and was then left bereft of the presence of God we might assume she felt.

The article linked above gives an incredible insight into the suffering Mother Teresa underwent during her lifetime.  Is that the same suffering that Mary underwent, particularly during her pregnancy?  And most importantly, is it that suffering which we all feel sometimes, regardless of our faith or background?  Is the role of Mary and the Annunciation to encourage us to believe even when we feel like we’ve lost all faith?  As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars’.  Can we learn to rejoice in our doubt as we rejoice in our faith?  Surely the despair of a believer who’s lost their faith is testament to unshakable certainty that God is there, holding them in His arms and keeping them safe.

If Mary had not taken the leap of faith to carry the Son of God, we may not have known Him.  If Mother Teresa had not kept on working to help and heal the poor, we would have lost an icon for Christian goodness and kindness.  If we shy away from what we feel God is calling us to do, what will be lose?

This is the message that the Annunciation is bringing me this year – that God is there for us whether we recognise it or not.  And if we can just learn to become His instrument, we can be everything that He made us to be.

This beautiful song is my offering to you on this blessed day.  May you meet with God today and feel His arms around you.

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On trust:

Posted on March 23rd, 2012

‘I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.’ – John Henry Newman

I have often contemplated on trust, as I’m sure many Christians have.  It seems to be a topic which arises particularly when I am struggling in some way – whether that be in understanding my purpose, things not going my way or feeling unsatisfied with some aspect of my life.  I can remember being a teenager and people telling me in that patronising voice ‘you’ll get used to it’ or ‘you’ll understand it when you’re older’, or the most frustrating, ‘you’re so young!’  It would drive me mad!  Unfortunately they were right (of course) and now, although I’m still only 25, I find myself using the same phrases sometimes.

I appreciate every difficult situation I have ever experienced, because I can see precisely how they have prepared me for the roles I fulfil and the tasks I complete in life now.  And yet, having this knowledge and understanding the role that suffering has played in my life so far (to a greater or lesser degree), I still find myself resisting and complaining when I am presented with opportunities to grow.  I can semi-remember a quote which is about how God answers prayers in the most unexpected ways, and trying to Google it has led me to see testimony upon testimony of people writing about how their prayers have been answered unexpectedly.

I know in my heart of hearts that I don’t need to worry.  I have had so many personal experiences of God working my own life, of prayers being answered and of situations working out just perfectly, and with hindsight I have developed an understanding of the way that everywhere I end up is helping me to grow in some way.  So why is trust so difficult to maintain?

I suppose the one consolation is that Jesus understood the weakness of human nature.  When he called Peter towards him and Peter doubted, it is almost as if he is consoling him; ‘Oh you of little faith’ as one might comfort a child who has fallen over and grazed their knee.  But the beauty of experience and hindsight is that we can piece together the proof of God’s love in our own lives.  We can understand how God has worked in our lives in the personal and subtle ways that only we can recognise, leading us to trust in Him again and again.  And in that there is a great reassurance.

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