My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 7 October 2011

Spiritual Wellbeing and the Healing Power of Forgiveness

I was negotiating some hairpin bends high up in the Mallorcan mountains in our rental car when my passenger said out of the blue: ‘I have no time for your Christian faith; you have such a pre-occupation with guilt and sin.’ I was floored for a moment. Perhaps we do to the outside world. But doesn’t that miss some of the point? Guilt gives us a chance to reflect on our actions and inactions and resolve to do better next time.
None of us can possibly be perfect. I am certainly no saint. But we can all strive for improvement in the secure knowledge that with true penitence we do not need to carry a guilt burden with us along life’s journey. Jesus Christ died for our sins, that we might be forgiven. He represents love and forgiveness, not guilt. Forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ, the world’s greatest Wounded Healer, heals us and allows us to move on.
‘To err is human, to forgive divine,’ (1)wrote Alexander Pope, the renowned early eighteenth-century poet. We also have to forgive those who do wrong to us: otherwise we harbor bitterness and resentment within our own souls. Forgiveness is vital for our own spiritual wellbeing. Jonathan Sacks calls forgiveness the emotional equivalent of losing weight. It is even better for you than for the person you have forgiven!
Even if our offer of forgiveness is not accepted, ‘yet once we reach out our hand, we cleanse ourselves of resentment. We may remain deeply wounded, but we will not use our hurt to inflict further pain on others.’ These are the words of pastor Johann Christoph Arnold, who in his book The Lost Art of Forgiving – Stories of Healing from the Cancer of Bitterness, (2) relates the very human stories of ordinary people scarred by crime, betrayal, abuse and war. He tells how many have learned to forgive in sometimes the most difficult of circumstances. He reminds us of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie died in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, the innocent victim of a terrorist bomb; of Chris Carrier, a ten year old abducted in Miami and subjected to the most brutal attack, who many years later exchanged mutual forgiveness with his abductor, by then an old man. Harbored bitterness, Arnold explains, is destructive and self-destructive. It ‘has a disastrous effect on the soul. It opens the door to evil and leaves us vulnerable to thoughts of spite, hatred and even murder. It destroys our souls, and it can destroy our bodies as well.’
The Most Rev. Desmond M. Tutu, formerly Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, oversaw the post-apartheid reconciliation in his native South Africa, as leader of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He has deep practical experience of the power of forgiveness. Without it, he tells us, ‘there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.’ He brought soldiers and paramilitaries face to face with their victims from the Northern Ireland Troubles to grant and receive forgiveness. This was a process, he felt, which would help individuals in Northern Ireland who had been living for decades with unresolved emotions.
Tutu has also observed that if only America could truly heal the wounds from slavery and the displacement of its Native Americans, the country could reach unprecedented heights.(3) He often speaks of such unresolved emotions as festering wounds that need opening up again and cleansing before real healing can occur.
Some of us believe that the Anglo-Catholic Church has seriously lost its way in the last 100 years or so by concentrating too much on individual redemption rather than nurturing a deeper spiritual commune with the sentient world around us, understanding our place in the wider humanity, visibly living our faith more proactively. Until the Church truly admits to its past failings, it will not be able to move on in a truly healing mission within the world.
This ability to forgive and be forgiven is an essential part of any global healing, a fact recognized by organizations such as the Fetzer Institute, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan USA. They are devoted to the furtherance of love and forgiveness in the pursuit of global healing. The Fetzer Institute has a mission that rests on “its conviction that efforts to address the world’s critical issues must go beyond political, social and economic strategies to their psychological and spiritual roots.”(4) And forgiveness, within or without a sound supporting faith, is one key to the healing of those psychological and spiritual roots.
The reality is that we all need our faith, and our spirituality, more than ever in these coming decades of the new millennium.

1. Alexander Pope English Writer, (1688-1744) from Part II of An Essay on Criticism.
2. Johann Christoph Arnold, The Lost Art of Forgiving – Stories of Healing from the Cancer of Bitterness (Farmington, PA: The Plough Publishing House of the Bruderhof Foundation, 1998)
3. Desmond Tutu, January 2006, reported by Waveney Ann Moore in the St. Petersburg Times,
4. Fetzer Institute, (nothing at all to do with Fetzer Wines of California, but the latter do have a wonderful website and are justly proud of their sustainable and organic achievements!).

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