Susan Letourneau


Acts of Forgiveness on Higher Ground


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We are moving into a time of understanding and consciousness unprecedented in recorded history. Amongst an ever widening population, we see a desire to develop a spiritual connection: to live according to spiritual principles rather than externally based roles and rules.
Traditionally we have been taught to seek justice, whereas now we perceive that justice is a limited tool. Regardless of who is right in a given situation, attempts to even the score only lead to more unrest. Chains of reaction can only be broken by someone deciding to turn the other cheek, to let go of a situation along with the anger and resentment accompanying it. The internal process of letting go is forgiveness, and to each of us it presents different challenges.

The most awe-inspiring story I ever heard about forgiveness was in the autobiography of Dutch evangelist Corrie ten Boom. Held prisoner at Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War ll, Corrie watched in horror as a particularly cruel guard sent her sister to the gas chamber. After the war, during a talk on forgiveness, she said that the survivors of war fared best when able to forgive their tormentors. After her talk, a man approached her - the guard who had sent her sister to her death. Not remembering Corrie, the man explained that he had done things during the war which he deeply regretted. He hoped she would offer him forgiveness.

Corrie describes her reaction: "It could not have been many seconds that he stood there… but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever been asked to do. I stood there with coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion… forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. I prayed silently for help. Finally, woodenly, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. For a long moment, we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then."

I have pondered long and often about forgiveness since I read Corrie's story. While nothing in my life compares to her challenge, I knew that for each of us, forgiveness is a doorway to a greater reality. But there are many obstacles along the way, one being the desire to see justice done. At one time I believed I would have to know the offender had been appropriately punished before I could consider forgiveness. But the fact is that most of us will be dead and buried before we see justice done to those who have hurt us. I began to realize my viewpoint was myopic. As long as I carried around my perceived hurts, it was I who would suffer, and not the offender. I came to understand that forgiveness is not a moral issue, but rather an energy dynamic. It means divesting myself of the baggage of my past so I have more energy to devote to today.

Forgiveness asks me to look beyond the personality and the acts of the person offending me. It invites me to see and to relate to a bigger picture: to the soul of the other, and therefore his essential innocence. It does not condone what has been done. It does not pretend it didn't happen or that I don't have bad feelings about it. It does make a statement that there is more to be seen and understood than what is obvious. Forgiveness is the understanding that no matter how horrific my perception of reality, the peace of God still exists and is available to me.

Years ago I worked extensively with a woman who had been horribly abused as a child. After many years of attempting to heal her wounds, she had an experience in which she was able to see the pure soul of her abuser. At that moment she was able to forgive him.

There is a Tarot card which depicts a rocky shoreline with great waves breaking against high cliffs. Far above the waves is a staff embedded in peaceful, rolling hills. The card tells me that I always have a choice - I can stay in the surf of my anger and self-righteousness, battered by my emotions; I can watch from the rocks, mulling over my pain, or I can look up and seek higher ground with the peace of green pastures and new directions. All three options exist for me, and only I can make the choice.

In any situation requiring forgiveness, higher ground is available. Acting on this understanding requires faith that there is more going on than I can see, and a willingness to believe that. This willingness seems to be the most important, as well as the most difficult, place to reach. Most situations in our lives requiring forgiveness take us to the edge of our personality capabilities, where we must seek help in order to move ahead, just as Corrie had to pray to be able to take the hand of the guard. I suspect that this is the deepest purpose of our painful life experiences: to bring us up against our own limits so we will ask for help, and thereby have a profound experience of love.
I hope that we may all meet on higher ground.

Susan Letourneau is a Calgary writer and spiritual counsellor specializing in the use of visualization to transform life challenges.


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