The late Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, scholar and unrelenting advocate of forgiveness in every life, left a wonderful literary legacy in "Bread for the Journey," his universally admired book of daily readings.
The Jan. 29 entry speaks powerfully to our time, and to the potential in every person to become spiritually and physically healthier.
Excerpts of that entry follow:
"Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over."
Nouwen, reflecting his firm grounding in Christian faith and his practice of the contemplative methods of eastern religions, writes, "Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us ... Forgiveness indeed heals memories."
In "Mere Christianity," C. S. Lewis said, "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive."
Few would argue with the wisdom and experience in Lewis' perspective.
Forgiveness is easier said than done because it is an act of the will affecting the very core of who we are.
Everyone eventually reaches a place where forgiveness needs to be extended, and on the opposite side, accepted. They're both hard things.
One dictionary definition of forgiveness is "to pardon, to waive any negative feeling or desire for punishment; being able to forgive and show mercy; the act of excusing a mistake or offense."
Health care professionals frequently say heart health and mental health are linked to reducing hurt and anger. So, medically speaking, forgiveness is healthy.
It doesn't take professional training to see how bitterness, grudges, resentment and hatred affect personalities. It's almost always visible in a person's demeanor and interactions.
Is it any wonder that plenty of stories abound of people having heart attacks and strokes in blind rages and the inner rage of holding grudges and resentments.
Forgiveness, in every major faith stream, means letting go and moving forward without the burden.
Various faith streams have different ways of defining forgiveness, but they all send the same message: We humans aren't perfect and it's a mistake to expect us to be.
The themes of forgiveness in sacred writings survive from antiquity because they are true, brought forward through the ages by people who stepped out in faith to forgive and stepped back into faith to receive the grace of forgiveness.
These reflections are taken in part from Henri J.M. Nouwen's "Bread for the Journey"