Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what was broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again. ~ Dag Hammarskjöld
I am someone who has been forgiven.
In most modern practices, we talk and hear a lot about practicing forgiveness, but usually from the standpoint of forgiving others. It usually includes forgiving someone virtually, who has not actually asked for it (‘I forgive my father for being verbally abusive to me in my childhood’); or forgiving ourselves, but save for Judaism and 12-Step programs, there is little to be found about being the one who needs to be forgiven, about how to accomplish that complex and challenging exchange of grace.
Forgiveness is a two-way street, and if you are the one who needs to be forgiven, you are definitely not in the place of the hero. It’s embarrassing and difficult, grotty and unglamorous, harrowing and uncomfortable, to be the one who would plead forgiveness from another person.
But to be able to practice forgiveness presumes that there is someone else who needs forgiveness. How seldom do we ever want to acknowledge that person is our own self.
Several years ago, I did a grievous wrong to the person I loved most in the world. If you know me well, you may know what it was. If you don’t, then suffice to say that if anyone asked me, ‘What is the worst thing you ever did?’, I could answer that question without hesitating for a second.
For years I put off asking forgiveness for it, first from pride, but then because I assumed that the person whom I harmed could never forgive me. I think deep down I was afraid of that, and what it would feel like to ask forgiveness and be told ‘No.’
But finally I did, in those words, ‘Please forgive me.’ And they did, and I was. I was forgiven.
I do not know how it worked, but what I do know is this: that the moment I heard, ‘I forgive you,’ I had a feeling I had never felt before, that my heart which I had known had been heavy, but not how heavy, suddenly soared up. Everything turned gold and light, for an instant. I had not realized that my unseen bodies had been dragging Marley-chains, but they had.
It is true that the Universe forgives us for the things that we have done, as we learn from them; that we are always already forgiven. It is also true that after a lot of dredging and inner work, we can forgive ourselves.
But there is something special in its grace about being forgiven by the person that you harmed, being released by them, because they are a specific aspect of the Universe, in a unique embodied specific form, and that they are not only the soulful and glorious interface that the Endless is showing itself to you by, but also because they are precious in their limitation and individuality, and their forgiveness is particular to them.
Even the great day of atonement and awe, Yom Kippur, cannot give us what an individual human can. Michael Strassfield writes that for sins between us and our fellow humans, ‘Yom Kippur offers no atonement. For those sins, we must ask forgiveness from all the people we have wronged. We must try to repair the damage and the pain we have caused during the past year.’ There are things that the Universe can forgive, but there are things that a person, standing in place of the Universe, can only forgive. There are things we can only do for ourselves, and for each other.
By asking to be forgiven, you also give someone the real chance to forgive you. Edward Greenstein writes that we cannot be truly forgiven ‘without apologizing and asking for forgiveness; we cannot forgive until we are addressed. We must be bold enough to speak to those we have wronged, and we must perform the ofttimes humiliating and cathartic act of seeking forgiveness.’ It is true that there are people who never will forgive you, but you can’t ever know until and unless you ask. There is a tender and subtle negotiation between releaser and released; the release begins when you bring yourself to ask for it; you give the releaser the chance to set you free, which in turn releases them from the bondage of not being asked to forgive. It is an intricate and alchemical web, with many shining causal strands.
From what I felt, I think that this is true: that when you forgive someone, you give them new karma. You don’t just neutralize what happened before, but you actually refresh their soul.
If you need to be forgiven, ask forgiveness. There is freedom anyway in that utter humility, and a true gift to the one you are asking.
And if someone asks you for it, in a real and direct way, and you are ready to do it, you might just want to give it to them, because you will be giving them a new soul.
Because we live in a world with other people, there are things we have to do, things we get to do, for each other. We can hold each other prisoner and ourselves in bondage without knowing it. We can release one another when we are conscious of it. I don’t believe in Hell-damnation but there is a damnation in being bound, by your own stubborn ego as well as by another’s unforgiveness. Sticking to your pride is a binding. You have a mighty power to be released. Be woman or man enough to ask for it.
If you ask for it, you might just get grace, get what you asked for, which is forgiveness, which is unbelievable, which is the greatest force in the Universe, which changes everything and rewrites all the rules, which is as precious as water, true and personal, from another person, just for you. New karma, fresh as a baby. New life.
We are all one another’s redeemers.
Blessed be, and Love!
Photography by www.jefffrazier.com