Harper thoughts

Receiving Apologies and the Path of Forgiveness

“When you are trying to decide whether someone deserves your forgiveness, you are asking the wrong question. Ask instead whether you deserve to become someone who consistently forgives.”
–D.. Patrick Miller, A Little Book of Forgiveness

We all have done things we regretted in our lives. It is part of the human condition. How we proceed in living and learning from our errors is the story of our lives.

We have all been hurt by things others have done, either directly to us, or indirectly. It is also part of the human condition. How we proceed in recovering from our hurt, in responding to the actions of others, is also the story of our lives.

What story do we want to tell? a story of injury and ongoing grievance or a story of reconciliation and forgiveness? Can we learn and model a healing pathway?

have been blessed to accompany a gifted spiritual teacher of forgiveness on her journey. Here are some of the things I have learned:

  • Forgiveness is not the same as condoning. One may forgive an individual without condoning their actions.
  • Forgiveness of self and others is a process which we progress through at our own pace. There is no one right way or right time to apologize or forgive. No one is ever required to forgive anyone anything. It is a choice.
  • No one can force or mandate another to truly apologize or to truly forgive. Such clarity comes when we are opened by the work of the Spirit within us, in its own time. Force is more likely to harden attitudes.
  • When someone apologizes, we may not be ready to forgive or trust. When that is the case, it may be important for our own healing to acknowledge that the apology has been made, and to state our inability at this time to fully receive it.
  • As long as we hold onto a particular test of worthiness that another must pass before we forgive them, we continue to hold onto the destructive effects of anger and judging in our own being.
  • As long as we view an individual as irredeemable, as being stuck in past patterns, we close ourselves from recognizing the work they may have been doing to change. As long as we harden our heart toward anyone, we close ourselves to the working of love within us.
  • When we recycle our grievances, telling the story of how we have been offended over and over again, the grievances grow and collect other grievances, much like a tumbleweed. The path of forgiveness invites us to let go of that recycling, opening us up to the energy of love, enabling us to put that energy to work in the world.

As we reflect together on the controversy that has arisen around the Gallery’s decision to commission Tom Otterness to create a sculpture for its Centennial Sculpture Park, here are some questions we might ask ourselves:

  • What in my life past or present has been touched by this controversy? Am I allowing old issues to recycle through this controversy? Is there an opportunity for forgiveness of self or others in my actions or reactions?
  • How do I want to model civic discourse? What concrete steps can I take to engage others in peaceful dialogue?
  • Can I hear an opening for dialogue in the acknowledgement that all parties in this controversy agree that Tom Otterness’s actions more than 30 years ago were wrong? Am I willing to acknowledge that he has apologized, even if I may not be ready to forgive?
  • Can I see beyond the artist’s past to the artwork itself, and reflect on why the Gallery might have chosen this particular vision for the corner? Can I acknowledge that artistic tastes differ, and separate questions of taste from other issues in the controversy?
  • Can I look at all involved with compassion, understanding that we may all be at different places on the path to forgiveness? Can I hold the artist in compassion for the burdens which he will carry for the rest of his life? Can I hold the Gallery Board and staff in compassion, accepting that they were well intended in the professional choice made, even if I don’t agree with that choice? Can I have compassion for all those who are caught up in an emotional response to the artist’s past, the Gallery’s choice, or both?
  • How does this controversy call me into transformation, into doing my best to live in peace and loving kindness?
  • “Forgiveness is a curious paradox of accepting everything just as it is while working tirelessly for a complete upheaval in our behavior and consciousness. Some believe we must be constantly aggrieved to set right the injustices of the world—that good anger corrects bad anger. But an enlightened activism respectfully acknowledges all anger and sorrow while demonstrating the superior strategy of mercy, pooling ever deeper within and rhythmically flowing without. The most effective and lasting action arises from profound stillness and radical clarity.” –D. Patrick Miller, A Little Book of Forgiveness