Forgive. | rejoyce letters, vol. 49

Hi Friend, 

In Christianity, this is a Holy week, the week before Easter. 

I've written before about being raised in a pretty strict Presbyterian household. As a child, I went to Church every Sunday, youth groups, Vacation Bible Schools, Christian week-long sleep away summer camps, etc. I still have many Bible verses memorized and know So. Many. Songs. 

I can sing you the Ten Commandments, the twelve disciples, the Lord's Prayer (with accompanying sign language), and on and on.

As a child, I felt a mysterious connection to Bible stories (I read the Bible twice through probably before I was 14. So many questions about circumcision and concubines), but as I got older, despite all the exposure, my religious connection waned.

So many Biblical interpretations take things so literally—and that was a challenge for my (somewhat) logical mind.

Only recently have I begun marveling in the metaphorical meanings of some of these stories and verses that have long lived in my mind, and appreciating them in a new light.

So let's talk Easter, a classic Christian holiday. 

The story, in short, is this: Jesus is betrayed by his disciple Judas, Jesus is sentenced to crucifixion by Pilate, Jesus is crucified, and three days later, his tomb is empty. Jesus has risen from the dead.

This story has so much depth for metaphoric interpretation, and is rich with meaningful details: from Judas's betrayal with a kiss, to Pontius Pilate washing his hands, to Jesus carrying his own cross, to the crown of thorns.

But, for today, I want to talk about Jesus's last words on the cross. There are four gospels in the New Testament and three which mention his words while dying (Matthew, Luke, and John); although there is some overlap, they don't align perfectly. In accumulation, they record Jesus saying seven phrases on the cross, thought of holistically as Jesus's "Seven Last Words." Theologians usually write or preach about his last words by addressing all seven phrases—though there isn't a single place which records all seven in succession. 

Don't fear, I'm not going to talk about all seven. :) I am only going to mention the phrase that's usually considered as spoken first, documented in Luke 23:24:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I distinctly remember a sermon from my childhood where the Pastor—staying true to literal interpretations—described how crucifixion logistically works. Yes, your wrists and feet are nailed to a cross which would undoubtedly be a severity of physical pain few of us have experienced, but, usually, this won't kill you. It often takes several days for those strung up on crosses to die, with the ultimate cause of death usually being exhaustion and asphyxiation. You suffocate yourself because you no longer have the strength to hold yourself up to breathe and your rib cage, essentially, collapses around your heart and lungs.

So Jesus, a teacher of Love and peace, a teacher of "turn the other cheek" and "Let he who has not sinned throw the first stone," a teacher who associated with societal outcasts (prostitutes, those with leprosy, tax collectors), died because of a collapse of the Heart Chakra, the body's energetic center for Love and forgiveness. (It would feel less appropriate if Jesus, for example, had been hung or beheaded—he was never preaching from his Mind; he was always preaching from his heart.)

He preached Love and acceptance and forgiveness, and the world rejected it. Not with subtlety, but with horrific violence.

(There is metaphor to that alone, most definitely. I think sometimes people imagine if they become these super loving, generous people, then they should therefore also become super popular and well-liked. Sadly, history would suggest otherwise, my friends. But I think a part of spiritual growth is relinquishing the inner need to feel super popular or well-liked—and be loving and generous anyway.)

And while he was strung up to die, while the world was actively rejecting his message, Jesus was still teaching love and acceptance and forgiveness.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I do not think it's a stretch to say that every spiritual tradition or religion has an element of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is a strong thread running through nearly every spirituality book I've ever read. In Anatomy of the SpiritCaroline Myss claims:

"By far the strongest poison to the human spirit is the inability to forgive oneself or another person. It disables a person's emotional resources." 

Perhaps you have negative associations with Christianity specifically or religions as a whole. I get it. And I'd like to posit that forgiveness is still very worthy of your attention. I've found peace, when seeing the symbol of the cross or walking by a church, rather than viewing it as a symbol of oppression (and I'm not denying that Christianity can be oppressive), viewing it as a symbol of forgiveness. To make the cross mean that for me. 

Rumi says: 

"Grace comes to forgive and then forgive again."

I see forgiveness as an ongoing, daily practice. As a lens through which I attempt to view all people and circumstances. As a way to reflect on my past and approach the present. I see forgiveness as a path to peace.

So, maybe—even if you've held a grudge for months or even years—you could open to the possibility of letting it go. Dropping it. Transmuting the negative experience with the balm of forgiveness. Not half-assed forgiveness. Not, "Oh yeah I forgive her," but you bitch about her every chance you get. Or, "Yeah, I forgive him," but you can't be in the same room as him for more than two hours without losing your shit.

That's not real forgiveness. That's lying to yourself.

I'm talking (metaphorically) hanging on the cross and forgiving the people who nailed you up there. That is the level where forgiveness is transformative. That is the level where forgiveness can be life changing. 

So what if you let your grudges die?

It's Easter week, after all. The perfect time to die to an old way of living, and rise again. 

with Love and with Light,


p.s. Perhaps a more comical way of looking at forgiveness, which I still find helpful, because I like looking at it from all angles:"Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past." :)