Wednesday, August 5, 2009
“Who can bestow upon another what he does not have? And who can share what he denies himself? (A Course In Miracles, T-27.V.1.8-9)
First, let’s ask Mr. Webster the meaning of “forgive”. He replies that to forgive is, “to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; [to] stop being angry with; [or to] pardon” (Laird, 2002).
Now, let’s take a look at forgiveness from several other points of view. Specifically, from the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous, A Course In Miracles, and Emanuel Swedenborg.
In a 1946 letter, A.A. co-founder Bill W. wrote describing the utilization of self-examination in the practice of forgiving others. The ability to see (in ourselves) the same or similar attributes that we are condemning in others makes the forgiving easier. He says:
“So, nowadays, if anyone talks to me so as to hurt, I first ask myself if there is any truth at all in what they say. If there is none, I try to remember that I too have had my periods of speaking bitterly of others; that hurtful gossip is but a symptom of our remaining emotional illness; and consequently that I must never be angry at the unreasonableness of sick people…. Under very trying conditions I have had, again and again, to forgive others – also myself.” (Wilson, 1967, Bill W.’s 1946 letter)
In the 12 Step process the practice of forgiveness comes heavily into play in Step Five. Admitting the exact nature of our wrongs in an open and honest way makes forgiveness more possible. On Step Five Bill W. writes:
“This vital Step was also the means by which we began to get the feeling that we could be forgiven, no matter what we had thought or done. Often it was while working on this Step with our sponsors or spiritual advisers that we first felt truly able to forgive others, no matter how deeply we felt they had wronged us. Our moral inventory had persuaded us that all-round forgiveness was desirable, but it was only when we resolutely tackled Step Five that we inwardly knew we'd be able to receive forgiveness and give it, too.” (Wilson, 1986, pp. 57-58)
Receiving God’s forgiveness is addressed in Step Six as follows:
“If we ask, God will certainly forgive our derelictions. But in no case does He render us white as snow and keep us that way without our cooperation. That is something we are supposed to be willing to work toward ourselves. He asks only that we try as best we know how to make progress in the building of character. So Step Six--"Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character"--is A.A.'s way of stating the best possible attitude one can take in order to make a beginning on this lifetime job.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 65)
Later on in the 12 Step process (Steps 8 and 9) there will be more working with forgiveness and other people – getting forgiveness from those who have been harmed by our behavior and giving it to those who have harmed us. In making amends to those we have harmed the rule seems to be that we should take a balanced approach devoid of any accusatory spirit of blame. Bill writes:
“In all these situations we need self-restraint, honest analysis of what is involved, a willingness to admit when the fault is ours, and an equal willingness to forgive when the fault is elsewhere. We need not be discouraged when we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 91)
“If we are sorry for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned our lesson. If we are not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink. We are not theorizing. These are facts out of our experience.” (Wilson, 1976, p. 70)
Sometimes, those to whom amends are to be made have been so damaged that they cannot find the peace and resolution of forgiveness in themselves and the relationship cannot be completely mended. If we are sure we have done everything we reasonably could to create a better relationship we can then, as they say, let go and let God. Perhaps the final A.A. word on forgiveness is contained in the following quote.
“When we developed still more, we discovered the best possible source of emotional stability to be God Himself. We found that dependence upon His perfect justice, forgiveness, and love was healthy, and that it would work where nothing else would.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 116)
So, how does the “Course” see forgiveness? Well, the first thing to know about “forgiveness” from A Course In Miracles’ point of view is that – guess what? – “forgiveness” doesn’t mean what you think it means! That’s right, as with most of the rest of the Course’s terminology, you have to relearn what “forgiveness” means. In case you were wondering, yes, that was a complaint – an “attack thought” (I suppose) – but really, why can’t we all just agree on the meaning of terms anyhow!? We all have had English dictionaries all of our lives, right? Life in this illusory world that doesn’t really exist would be so much simpler if all words meant the same thing to all people. OK, thanks for “letting” me share (as if you could stop me).
Liz Cronkhite, A Course In Miracles mentor, explains it well (my confession is I would be utterly lost without Liz who is a very long-term student of the Course). She says:
“The world’s version of forgiveness is “You have done this to me, but I am going to let it go.” But the Course teaches us that forgiveness recognizes nothing has happened. This requires a shift in perception away from this world as reality to the Oneness of God as Reality. Ultimately, you only forgive once and it is yourself you forgive for your illusions. Until then, you are basically preparing for this step.” (Cronkhite 2006.1.4)
So, as we “prepare for this step”, let’s look at a few more things that the Course says about forgiveness.
“Forgiveness… is an illusion… [which] leads away from error and not towards it” (Schucman, 2007, C-3.1.1, 3 and 4). It “ends all suffering and loss” (Schucman, 2007, W.249.heading). It is… “the bridge to Heaven” (Schucman, 2007, C-3.5.1 and 3). And, it is still, “and quietly does nothing. It offends no aspect of reality, nor seeks to twist it to appearances it likes. It merely looks, and waits, and judges not” (Schucman, 2007, W-pII.1.4.1-3).
As I read these descriptions of “forgiveness” (all of which basically work for me), I still find myself craving the “You have done this to me, but I am going to let it go” worldly version. I have found bigness, love, divinity, and peace in the practice of the worldly version – in both giving it and receiving it. It’s a version which acknowledges the reality of the pain and hurt we often cause each other as well as, dare I say it, the “separateness”. With all this "Course" work being done to achieve “Oneness” may we not be throwing out the baby with the bathwater? What if the natural world IS real - although less real than the spiritual world? What if spiritual ideas cannot be adequately expressed in natural language? What if the sometimes nonsensical and incomprehensible text of the Course is what happens when you try to express real spiritual ideas using natural language? What if the truth is that we never lose our sense of “I-ness” to eternity? What if we will always have an “own” or, as my favorite revelator Swedenborg says, a “proprium” - albeit a heavenly one? What if our “separateness” is part of the very purpose of the Divine design of the creation (a heaven from the human race) rather than a Divine ‘woops I didn’t mean to do that and now let’s have an atonement to undo it’ thing?
What if the natural world is real and the spiritual world (within the natural world and from which it continually springs) is even more real? And what if the Divine itself (both inmostly within and around the natural and the spiritual) is the most real? Once created (conceived), the human mind, although easy to damage, is ultimately indestructible and lives forever. I know, I know – there I go again with a rant....
It is the Divine Human of the Lord (in Course terms “the Son”) which is inmostly in all created things that allows for the possibility of the Oneness we can sense as “real” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 285). Other words for “Oneness” could be “connection”, “conscious contact”, “community” and “fellowship”. The God in me sees the God in you to eternity. But why stop there with just our 'two Gods' looking at each other? I too can learn to increasingly see the God in you – if I practice and train my “self” to do so and ask the Lord for help in doing it. The Course says, “To forgive is to overlook. Look, then, beyond error and do not let your perception rest upon it, for you will believe what your perception holds” (T-9.IV.1).So, I can overlook the error and as Cronkhite says, “take the situation in [my] mind to [the] Holy Spirit. Be willing to let go of what you think you already know and ask for another way to perceive the situation” (Cronkhite 2006.1.4)
While I love these ideas, I find the Course’s idea that ultimately the only forgiveness that needs to happen is the forgiving of oneself for having illusions is just not entirely satisfying. Is that my ego talking? I suppose eternity will tell….
A cyber word search of Swedenborg’s massive theological writings for the words “forgive” and “forgiveness” yields about 125 hits each – not much considering the size of his works. Swedenborg’s message on the subject can be seen as being relatively simple in comparison to the complexity of his other doctrines.
A fairly comprehensive Swedenborgian idea on the subject of the forgiveness of a person’s “sins” by the Lord will be seen in the next two citations:
“The Divine Energy and Operation, which are meant by the Holy Spirit, are, in general, reformation and regeneration; and in accordance with these, renovation, vivification, sanctification and justification; and in accordance with these latter, purification from evils, forgiveness of sins, and finally salvation. These in their order are the energies made operative by the Lord in those who believe in Him, and who adjust and dispose themselves for His reception and indwelling; and this is done by means of Divine truth, and with Christians by means of the Word....” (Swedenborg, 1988, TCR 142)
“I have heard from heaven that the Lord forgives to everyone his sins, and never takes vengeance nor even imputes sin, because He is love itself and good itself; nevertheless, sins are not thereby washed away, for this can be done only by repentance. For when He told Peter to forgive until seventy times seven, what will not the Lord do?” (Swedenborg, 1988, TCR 409)
If the forgiveness of the Divine is to be enjoyed by the recipient of it there must be a cessation of the harmful behaviors, attitudes, and thoughts. Mind-change or 'metanoia' in the Greek (translated as “repentance” in the Bible) is a prerequisite for experiencing the forgiveness of God. As Swedenborg expressed it, forgiveness and repentance not only go hand-in-hand,
“… repentance precedes forgiveness, and apart from repentance there is no forgiveness” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 280). If we are in negative states of mind how could we possibly experience the peace and joy of forgiveness? I think that's the point.
When it comes to people forgiving other people, Swedenborg is very clear that forgiveness is a major part of the practice of loving-kindness or ‘charity’. When discussing this forgiveness, he repeatedly refers to that part of the New Testament where Peter asks the Lord how many times he should forgive a person who does harm and the answer is not seven times but seventy times seven. In the following quote Swedenborg explains that seventy times seven doesn’t really mean four hundred and ninety times (which would be silly when you think about it) but in the allegorical language of the Bible the numbers mean ‘that the forgiving should be without end, or… eternal, which is holy.’
“… the Lord said that a man should forgive his brother not until seven times, but until seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22), by which is meant that they should forgive as many times as he sins, so that the forgiving should be without end, or… eternal, which is holy.” (AC 433)
So spiritually, forgiveness is a very big deal. That forgiveness is part of charity or loving kindness can be seen in these straightforward quotes:
“… those who forgive and give to others… are impelled by the goodness of charity.” (DP 334)
“… to forgive one who sins against you is of charity….” (AE 746:15)
“Internal people, as the angels of heaven are, do not wish the retaliation of evil for evil, but from heavenly loving-kindness they forgive freely….” (AE 556:8)
“… it is by command of the church that everyone ought to forgive his brother or neighbor…” (AC 6561)
Finally, to wrap up this little post, I would like to share what I consider to be the best definition of “forgiveness” I have ever seen. Swedenborg writes:
“… to forgive is not to regard anyone from evil but from good….” (AC 7697)
To regard someone “from good” means to see them the way the Lord sees them – for He is Good Itself.
Cronkhite, E. A. (2006.1.4). Forgiveness. Las Vegas, NV: ACIM Mentor. Retrieved on 7.27.2009 from http://acimmentor.blogspot.com/2006/01/forgiveness.html
Cronkhite, E. A. (2007). Understanding a course in miracles. Las Vegas, NV: ACIM Mentor.
Laird, C. et. al. eds. (2002). Webster’s new world dictionary and thesaurus. Second edition. New York: Hungry Minds, Inc.
Schucman, H. and Thetford, W. (2007). A course in miracles: Combined volume. Third edition. Mill Valley, CA: Foundation for Inner Peace.
Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine providence (Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1764) DP
Swedenborg, E. (1960). The apocalypse explained (J. Whitehead Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work written c. 1757-1759 and first published posthumously in the original Latin in 1870) AE
Swedenborg, E. (1965). Arcana coelestia (J. F. Potts Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published c. 1749-1756) AC
Swedenborg, E. (1969). Divine love and wisdom (C. & D. H. Harley Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1763) DLW
Swedenborg, E. (1988). True Christian religion (J. Chadwick Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1771) TCR
Wilson, W. (1967). As Bill sees it. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
Wilson, W. et. al. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous. Third edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)
Wilson, W. (1986). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)