"Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either". (Mt 6:15)
This is a simple karmic equation that is only too obvious in our experience at the psychological level. The connection between the two parts is not a threat however, merely descriptive. The Father does not refuse to forgive: it is that we cannot feel the Father’s forgiveness that enfolds us continuously unless we forgive. So we need to understand what forgiveness means.
“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” (Mt 25:31ff)
What matters in the end is what we do, not what we think we are doing. Many religious people feel it is their duty to defend God from impious men condemning or killing because they best know who God is. What if God is hidden in the other? If God’s name is unspeakable, immersed in its own silence, merged with our human names? When did we see you..? You didn’t name yourself.. We didn’t recognise you.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him. (Mk 1:12)
In the 26th hexagram of the I Ching, the Chinese wisdom text called the Book of Changes, we read that great power is produced by stillness. From its deep spring of wisdom it also teaches us that when we face what seem intolerable burdens the best response is to be still and thus gradually overcome the pressures of the subtle and mighty ego.
Sometimes a person’s deep desire is sitting on the surface of their personality for everyone to see while they are so convinced it is hidden that they are barely aware of it themselves. Out of such sad absurdities are human tragedies made. Or, we build financial empires or surrender to shameful addictions as childish ways of running away from both our true selves and our false selves – indeed from every self we find.
The nine year old who waits behind, so eager to tell you he ran a mile ‘marathon’ in record time. The ninety year old who looks at those she loves without the energy to engage or respond and closes her eyes in exhaustion. The range and states of human consciousness are as vast as that of cultures and customs around the world. One day we are hungry for experience and achievement. The next we’ve lost it.
Counting the days. Children do it when they look forward to something. Prisoners do it as they endure their incarceration. Spiritual pilgrims do it too – in a childlike way and because they are in love with freedom.
The countdown of Lent has started. It is an artificial means – feeling more natural because it is so ancient – for becoming clearer about time and about eternity that is no less here and now. It is, as someone called it, a taste of ‘tempiternity’, time shot through with a bright awareness of the sacred in the ordinary.
'When you fast do not put on a gloomy look like the hypocrites..' (Matthew 6:16)
Lent is an opportunity to put our authenticity to the test. It is so easy to slide gradually away from the truth, to imagine a lot but let practice descend into a role-play that we perform as much for ourselves as to make ourselves look better in others’ eyes. What a relief it is to get back to our real selves and accept ourselves even when we find we are flawed, unfaithful and generally imperfect. We don’t have to make excuses, just to be honest.