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Center for Action and Contemplation

An Unfolding Mystery

Monday, August 28, 2017


An Unfolding Mystery
Monday, August 28, 2017

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. —Matthew 5:9

The Spirit within us creates an unrelenting desire toward forgiveness and reconciliation. The entire Gospel reveals the unfolding mystery of forgiveness; it is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Gospel’s transformative message. The energy of being forgiven—in our unworthiness of it—first breaks us out of our merit-badge mentality. The ongoing experience of being forgiven (when we don’t even think we need it) is necessary to renew our flagging spirit and keep us in the infinite ocean of grace. Toward the end of life a universal forgiveness of everything for being what it is becomes the only way we can see and understand reality and finally live at peace.

Zechariah said that God would “give God’s people knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of sin” (Luke 1:77). Only when we experience undeserved love does this inward and outward flow begin to happen. Before that we are a dry, dead cistern. Before that, we are into “religion” perhaps, but not really any dynamic notion of God or even our self. Forgiveness given and forgiveness received are always the pure work of uncreated grace. Such unearned and undeserved forgiveness is necessary to break down the quid pro quo world that I call meritocracy.

Grace re-creates all things. Nothing new happens without forgiveness. We just keep repeating the same old patterns, illusions, and half-truths.

Sometimes grace does not come immediately, but like Job we “sit in the ashes scraping our sores” (Job 2:8). Sometimes neither the desire nor the decision to forgive is present. Then we must grieve and wait. We must sit in our poverty, perhaps even admitting our inability to forgive the offender. That is when we learn how to pray and how to “long and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6).

True Spirit-led forgiveness always frees and heals at least one of the parties involved, and hopefully both. If it only preserves my moral high ground—as a magnanimous “Christian” person—I doubt if it is true forgiveness at all. It must also quicken and invite the hearts of others, especially the offender. True forgiveness does not leave the offender feeling small and judged, but liberated and loved.

At the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati I had “70 x 7” painted over the main doorway. New mail carriers thought it was the address! It was our address, in a way. It is the distinctive hallmark of a people liberated by Christ. Community is not where forgiveness is unnecessary or unneeded. It is where forgiveness is very free to happen. And if it doesn’t happen—on a daily basis—there will be no community; without forgiveness the logic of victimhood and perpetrator rules instead of the illogic of love.

Gateway to Silence:
Create in me a clean heart. —Psalm 51:10

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 102-104.

Image credit: The Return of the Prodigal Son (drawing detail), 1642, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Teylers Museum Haarlem, The Netherlands.
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