Monday, December 06, 2010

Practice Abnormality

Guess what? Scholars have finally figured out that forgiving others is really good for you! An article in a publication that deals in the latest issues in higher education has confirmed this. Since these researchers agree, it must be right. Wow--what a piece of intriguing news--that this whole biblical idea that we really should set down those grudges and resentments might actually pay off! 

Forgive my sarcasm, but sometimes I wonder why something like this has to be quantified to be believed. This is not rocket science. Forgiveness and reconciliation are absolute basic necessities to forming human communities that actually work, and a huge key to physical, spiritual, social and emotional health.

Try this: this moment, think of someone who has grievously wronged you, or brought destruction on someone you love. I'm talking serious, long-term hurt here--those tough ones that all of us face.

Pay attention to what happens to your body when you bring the face of that person to mind. Do you feel your gut tighten? Your jaws clench? Your breath quicken? Your shoulder muscles contract? Your "fight or flight" mechanism activate? Your brain racing with ways to get revenge? Your hope that something bad might happen to that person? 

Every one of those responses is normal in the face of wrongdoing. But staying in the "normal" is a sure recipe for death. Clench those teeth and watch them be ruined by nighttime teeth-grinding. Tighten those shoulder muscles and eventually be unable to turn your head and see a wider world. Keep that gut tight and watch your digestion stay perpetually out of whack. Maintain the the perpetual "fight or flight" state and see your flooding stress hormones destroy nearly every system in your body. Seek revenge and watch your soul shrivel to nothingness. Hope for bad outcomes for others and see sourness infect every single relationship you have. 

Read history and see how many of the world's tragedies spring from the refusal to forgive and reconcile.  Yes, this is a complicated act, and does not mean giving into evil, unchecked power, or on-going abuse.  It does mean facing our own souls squarely and seeing how the normal act of non-forgiveness destroys hope and life.

This is the time of the year to make an intentional move from the normal to that which is most definitely not normal: the contemplation of God entering the restricted world of space and time and saying, "The normal is killing you. Try receiving and giving forgiveness instead."

When the angels announced Jesus' birth, they said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." 

Peace, peace between God and humanity, peace between us and others. Peace permeates the abnormal act of forgiveness. Peace comes when we set down the need for revenge, when we wish good, not evil upon even the worst among us, when we unclench, relax, let go, and breathe the clean air of forgiveness. 

Paradoxically, it is often only in the doing of this abnormal act that we find our own minds receptive to the possibility of angelic presence and to their message.  When we insist on measurable proof for immeasurable and foundational spiritual truths, we often close our eyes to the possibility of the mysterious and lose much of the sweetness and serendipity of life. 

The seasonal holidays that are upon us, both religious and non-religious, bring families together in ways that sometime build tensions.  Long-held grudges simmer over; tiny slights or misunderstandings turn into wall-splintering fights; unrealistic expectations lead to bitter disappointments.  These times, then, give the best opportunity all year to practice the abnormal act of forgiveness.  Pay attention to the bodily signs of unforgiveness.  See if you can stop the cycle before it destroys. Seek to create openings for the angels to enter with their pronouncements of peace.  

Practice abnormality.

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