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Forgiveness as a Practice of Prayer

By August 2, 2012 No Comments
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Rev. Karin A. Craven is filling in for Theresa. She is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a second year PhD student in the pastoral care and practical theology program at Luther Seminary.

Earlier this week I experienced the exhaustion of grief. The loss had been a long time coming, its dimensions not unknown but repeatedly plumbed and probed, for the sake of human relationship itself, the belief in human bonds of family, and the hope of healing. The practice of discerning amidst the give and take of relationships is a common, almost unconscious task in its daily ordinariness. In extraordinary times, discernment is a task of memory and hope, weighed down by conscious expectation in the present moment of careful dialogue. Discernment in such times takes up the task of differentiating between the human task of forgiveness and God’s complete yet ongoing work of reconciliation. I ask the question, “What ought to be?” even as I listen for what I am called to do.  I remember that to be human is an eschatological identity of open awareness.

My exhaustion was one measure that treasured the depth of relationship even as it was another measure of letting go into an unknown reality. The release of sorrow and expectation of what ought to be was, at the same time, an experience of the height and depth of love that struck me to the core, that literally flattened my body (corps) into a corps(e) pose on the bed as I slept into and away from my grief.  My conscious mind fled into the sweet repose of sleep. I awakened hours later, to a new provisional containment of and embodied perspective on mourning.

Over the years, wrestling with my self and others has taken a toll on my body. In fact, my body has become a barometer of ease or dis-ease in this particular relationship itself and relationships in general.  Feelings can be so ambiguous, slippery in their coming and going, yet contained within our muscles and sinew, the tender places of bone and organs. My body is a trustworthy space, a natural landscape in which to descend and dwell, to discover what needs are signaled by particular sensate emotions. I feel the fatigue of letting go, of no longer holding on. I wonder if such release creates an open space and if something new may emerge. I yearn for the clarity of what forgiveness means in the context of this relationship.

The feeling dimension of our bodies is natural, cuing us into unmet needs, helping us to translate conscious and unconscious perceptions into responses that ensure survival.  Our bodies contain and allow for the movement of emotion.  Motion helps me to access emotion.  I am grateful for the ability to notice where I hold my feelings in my body. It hasn’t always been so. My gut is great at reminding me of when I get stuck in ruminating emotion and the corresponding need to let go. The bowels of compassion are all about the rhythm of containment and release.   

I am clumsy in my grief, blind to most things, dependent upon routine to get me through my initial days of sorrow. I go through the motions of family life in the summertime.  I do loads of laundry.  I weed the garden and prune hedges. I run into corners of kitchen counters and tables. This is a relatively painless experience in comparison to my run in with the heavy metal of the trailer hitch, extending an explosive experience of doubled pain in my shins.

I wonder about the diversion from emotional to physical pain. Perhaps I need a visible marker to signal and mark the way through the unseen grief I still carry within.  Maybe I need a physical shift of focus where I carry my emotions not on my sleeve so much as on my shins as I walk down this new path, gingerly. Bumps and bruises have always marked me as the “ clumsy one” within the family. Now these are personal signs of a new direction, a re-thinking of what it means to body forth hope and loving-kindness amidst the pain of separation.

It is a curious way to think about the “marks of the church.” What marks and separates us, one from another, is always personal. If the church is the body of Christ, then those marks are individual, intimately related to the scourged body of Jesus, his lament crying out to God.  

In the church we are gathered from our separateness. Worship forms us into one body.  As church we are a uniquely local expression of Christ’s presence in the world. Our pain and practices of faith, as individuals and as a congregation, mark us as people on the way. 

I know my path is the way of forgiveness. It is a daily walk. It seems to me forgiveness is not just marked by the liturgical conventions of confession and pardon. It is also the inclination toward others in the wear and tear of relationships that marks us a hospitable people. I’m discovering forgiveness as an attitude and ethic is the practice of prayer. I’m curious to discover something more about forgiveness as a prayer practice that cultivates and sustains an open heart in the midst of brokenness. I suspect it will be something along the lines of knowing how it is God who helps me even have the ability to pray.

My daily discipline is one of prayer and meditation. I hold in prayer the relationship that has been broken and the people from whom I am separated. I call to mind their faces as I face them in prayer. In not turning my back on them, I face my own need for reconciliation. This practice of prayer marks the reality and the hope, the letting go and hanging that is characteristic of eschatological openness.

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