Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Raging Bull and The Secret of Protection


Many years ago I knew an Iroquois man who told me that art was not a Thing. Art was a Way.



I have learned something this Lent.

Forgiveness is not an Event. Forgiveness is a Way.

When I began my Lenten discipline of forgiving someone or myself of something every day, I had no idea how I would manage it -- or even what the full nature of forgiveness would feel like. I knew however that forgiveness was volitional, that it didn't just happen on its own.

I suppose my unthought-out sense of forgiveness was that it was some event of letting go that would return things to normalcy that had been previously damaged.

And I was wrong.

I started out with some small forgivings - things that did not really move the needle on the imaginary "Upset-o-Meter".

Remember, release. Remember, release.

It wasn't quite that simple, but that is close. Eventually I had to start facing larger things, bigger offenses, deeper hurts.

And there the problems began, thanks be to God. I thank God because the problems are leading me to a deeper understanding.

I'll start with one very clear, if dramatic, example. My father had a temper. A big one. When I was a little girl, I remember a night he and my Mom were arguing. I was upstairs in my room, but I could hear them downstairs. There was a lot of yelling. Then my father was clumping loudly up the stairs; and then there was a loud almost Olympic shot-putting shout from him, followed immediately by a thunderous noise. It sounded like lightening had hit just outside my room. I was terrified.

My father called my mother upstairs, and told me to get out of my room and into the hall. He showed us what he had done. He had driven his two fists into the hard plaster wall about 4-6 inches in, leaving two deep fist marks in the concave fist-blasted plaster.

He said "I want the two of you to see this." His voice got ominous. " Next time it could be you," and he walked away.

He never hit us, but he refused to let my Mom plaster over those holes for many years. I walked by that grim reminder of my father's lurking rage every time I went to my room for a long time.

A few years before he died, with him in his 80's and me in my 50's, I asked him if he remembered that day. He said, "Sure, but that was just rage. Everyone feels that." I calmly told him that actually everyone really does not feel that, and that in some homes it would be entirely foreign.

He looked at me as though I had dropped into his kitchen from Saturn. "Then they are lying to you," he said with utter certainty, and got up and went into the other room.

Conversation over.

Rage was what my father knew. Like Jake laMotta in the film, Raging Bull, to him the words "life" and "rage" were indistinguishable.

I decided to forgive my father for that time. That one isolated time. Two nights later, I wasn't done -- three nights, not done; four, not done. The event still held a charge for me. (It clearly still does, as I can recall it vividly and in great detail. )

I do find pieces of things - the knowledge that his rage wasn't about us or anything we did - the history in his own childhood of violence - the fact that he was not educated and had never been exposed to real gentleness before my mother - and I throw piece after piece of it at my memory, but with no full luck.

It is starting to dawn on me that he also did great violence to himself with his own temper.

Also, some less than pleasant things dawn on me - ways in which I am frightened to forgive -- afraid it would open me to more rage, more abuse -- even though my father is now dead. There can be absolutely irrational protection around a wound. But here is the secret -- the protection can irritate the wound so that it does not heal. (Read that twice if you have to.)

Now I begin to understand that forgiveness is a journey, a way of being in the world -- not an event. It is not a magical eraser. It is a way of unfolding the past differently.

It is not about restoring things to some magical place where the reality of our lives did not happen.

It is partly about establishing a spiritual practice where I can let go of the parts of myself that are still living in the past.

It is partly about finding the similarities between the part of myself that cannot release that memory, and the part of my father that could not let go of his rage.

Practicing forgiveness is an opportunity that God gives to me to fundamentally change the terms with which I encounter the world. It is rigorous, but it is freeing. It is like letting a wound be exposed to the clean air so that it can heal.

I do not pretend to know all that I need to about forgiveness, but this journey is teaching me a great deal. Tell me about forgiveness in your life -- will you tell me what you think it means?

2 Comments:

Blogger samtzmom said...

"It is partly about establishing a spiritual practice where I can let go of the parts of myself that are still living in the past. It is partly about finding the similarities between the part of myself that cannot release that memory, and the part of my father that could not let go of his rage."

I noticed that you said "could not" instead of "chose not to." That is so profound. I think you've hit the nail on the head Mata. The pain so affects us in our day to day lives, and we're not even really aware of it's impact. To forgive does not excuse the behavior of others, but rather tries to understand what was flawed within them to make them embrace that behavior as OK. Only then can we be free of it's power over us. We stay stuck until we can put it into perspective, and that is why forgiveness is so powerful to our spirits.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Maggie Rose said...

mata, first I will say that I appreciate the raw honesty of these lenten posts that you have given us.

the subject itself--forgiveness--is vital.

and your posts have only started me thinking, again, on this subject

I recently had a recurrence of bitterness...it is a trait within me that is slight but seems to be deeply present

but I am in a fog over it...as though the bandage doesn't want to be pulled off and expose the wound to fresh air and healing

so for now I sense that I have too much to say and yet feel speechless about this subject

when or if my mind ever clears on this subject, I will return and give my perspective

but for now: I am speechless

best regards,
Maggie

3:33 PM  

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