by Clare Brauer-Rieke
Tonight, St. James Cathedral is hosting a prayer service for wisdom in the face of the oil catastrophe in the Gulf and for atonement for the damage we have caused to creation.
Within and around the earth, within and around the hills, within and around the mountains, your authority returns to you.
Forgiveness is an uncomfortable topic for many. Some may say, "Praying for forgiveness means nothing -- what actions are you taking to atone? Asking for forgiveness is just to make yourself feel better." I don't agree with this assertion, but I sympathize. Our intentions and words need to be translated into reality through our actions. Action is crucial. However, forgiveness is not meaningless, and it is not just to make ourselves feel better.
My pastor once asked the congregation, "When I tell you I'm sorry, what do you say?"
"It's okay," the congregation dutifully responded.
"Ah," my pastor said. "But is it really okay? No. Whatever it was that I did -- let's say I said something cruel or thoughtless that hurt you -- it was not okay. Forgiveness should never require you to tell me what I did to you was okay. What forgiveness requires is that you and I reach a place from which we can move forward positively. Without forgiveness, we remain broken, damaged, resentful, and unproductive."
Tonight, when I ask forgiveness for the way my lifestyle contributed to the environmental disasters around me, do I want to hear, "It's okay?" Probably -- that would be nice. But it's not okay. Forgiveness won't let me off the hook or give me an eased conscience; forgiveness is understanding that "within and around the earth," my authority returns to me. I am empowered to be a part of the healing process. I need not be crippled by my guilt or anger. In this way, forgiveness mobilizes us to that action that is so crucial. Allow yourself to pray. Allow yourself to ask and receive forgiveness. And then, go out and make a difference.