Sorry!

Standard

Apology-Cover

There are undoubtedly times in all our lives when it is right for us to say sorry. Sorry for things we have said, or indeed things we didn’t say but should have, sorry for our actions and the hurt they have caused others. Recently I’ve needed to say sorry at work to people who have felt hurt by the actions of another group, there’s a real chance that had I spoken up and passed on information earlier this hurt could have been avoided (or at least reduced); and although saying the words and feeling regret (and “wishing you’d have said something earlier”) are all relatively straightforward things to say and feel, re-building relationships are often much harder.

Often apologies are between individuals, they are personal and private – but sometimes they require more of a “corporate” apology. The Church (as an institution) has many things it has need to “apologise” for …. from modern revelations about abuse, to the wholescale persecution of other faiths and different denominations, or it’s theological justification of false ideologies and oppressive practices such as slavery and colonialism.

My own latest encounters with “sorry” have made me think about why and how we say sorry, and what purpose it can serve.

  1. We say sorry because we are. It might seem obvious but there needs to be a genuineness in our apologies, sorry isn’t about minimising the damage to us, or just because we’ve been “caught out”. We should understand what pain has been caused to the other person, and what we’ve done that has caused or played its part in that pain. The psalmist says a “a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51.17 KJV) suggesting perhaps that our sorry should take on, absorb and carry something of the pain we have caused. “Don’t say sorry if you’re not…” I have heard myself say to my children and grand children when they think it’s the code word to get them out of trouble for a particular thing they’ve done wrong “…go and think about why you are sorry, and what you are sorry for” It seems good advice at any age perhaps.
  2. We say sorry not because we expect forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift, not a right, whether from God or from another individual. When we have wronged someone we have no right to expect forgiveness, but simply to hope that it might be given. Now obviously I could write a whole blog peice on how and why we should choose to forgive, and why God also chooses to forgive (and maybe I will) but thats not for here and now.
  3. We say sorry with the hope of healing. The act of apology has the potential to heal. That is not the same as expecting “everything to be as it was before”,  it is to say the word “sorry” acknowledges and takes “responsibility for the wrong done. Sorry says “it is not your fault, you are not the one who did wrong, that was me/us”. In saying this it offers the chance for those wronged to move on to a place of healing from the hurt caused, in the knowledge that the “wrong” has been understood and acknowledged. It should also provide the opportunity for those apologising to look again at what they did wrong, and to learn from it – hopefully choosing to avoid simply actions in the future. As such, saying sorry can become at least a start of a healing process for both parties.

 

 

Advertisements

Re-learning to pray

Standard

C6-F8JLWoAEBxB3

At the start of Lent I wrote a piece called Forty Days, one of the tasks I’ve set myself this year during this Lent season, alongside the fasting and casting off of bad habits, is to renew and re-learn parts of my prayer life.

I’ve often used art and creative writing as a method of prayer, and so it is to this place I’ve returned at this time. Again in that previous blog piece I talked about how the Psalms are for me a kind of go to part of scripture when I’m looking for a prayer focus, and how at the start of Lent I was particularly focussed on Psalm 51, and so it is that for the first fortnight of Lent, this psalm has remained a key focus for me. The photo above is of the prayerful artwork that has emerged from some of that reflection, but I wanted to share and record also some of the process and practice behind this art.

My first act of course was to read and re-read the psalm, in a kind lectio-divina manner, allow the words to lodge inside me, and waiting for particular words and sounds to stand out. The first phrase that stood out in this way was “teach me wisdom in my secret heart”*, and so the first thing I did was to use some of the remaining ash from  Ash Wednesday to finger draw a secret heart on the white card. This heart represents that deep inner self the part of us the we hide from others, and even ourselves; it’s the part of us where our insecurities, fears and prejudices sit – the part of us where we hurt in ways we don’t always understand even ourselves, maybe it’s got similarities to what Freud described as the Id, that most primitive and instinctive component of personality.

Next I created  a clean heart** made from clay super imposing it over the secret ash heart. But I wanted somehow to reflect the process by which I might imagine Gods work in the repentance – forgiveness – healing circle, and the whole Grace thing. That’s where I got the idea of the jigsaw pieces from, and the idea that through grace a new picture is created, the cleansed heart is not just clean, it is also re-newed, re-stored, re-created. Initially I took each piece of jigsaw and on the reverse side wrote more phrases from the psalm that had stood out as I read it yet again, things like: Have mercy, Steadfast Love, Abundant mercy, Wash me, Cleanse me, Purge me, You desire truth, Create in me a clean heart. These were then incorporated into the heart, but not neatly and perfectly, not in a joined up way that might suggest the full picture revealed and all issues resolved – but also not in a broken way, I felt a need to express a healing process. The pieces connect, some to each other, but all to the heart.

Finally I took inspiration from the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, a means by which pottery is repaired using a lacquer mixed with gold, silver or sometimes platinum. This practice embraces the flawed and incompleteness of things, and seeks to still see the beauty that is there. Verse 12 in the psalm says:

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

For my the gold paint that I used to fill the gaps between the jigsaw pieces, to unify them with the clay heart, represented this plea from a place of repentance – Gods grace can restore us and sustain us, and even (as with the Kintsugi pieces) reflect the beauty of Gods gift in and through our own incompleteness.

 

 

*Verse 6
**Verse 10 (and Isaiah 64.8 Job 10.9)

 

 

 

 

 

Forty Days

Standard

c51rio9waaaw-q5

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday the start of Lent. It’s a season in the Christian calendar I always look forward to, but often one when I feel like I didn’t quite arrive where I’d hoped. This year, I was fortunate enough to spend the whole of Ash Wednesday morning in quiet contemplation and prayer with friends, as well as sharing in the ashing ritual where we made the sign of the cross on each others foreheads, a ritual that links us with centuries of previous Christian witness, cleansing and prayer.

The cross is of course for forgiveness, but also to call once more to repentance; an acknowledgement that both individually and collectively we do things that are wrong, that we fall short of a perfected humanity, and the need for us to recognise these things in order that we might move on. The ash further reminds us of our own mortality, “Remember ..” say the words of the liturgy “…you are dust and to dust you will return.”

As in the past, alongside the “giving up” of sweets, cakes and other indulgencies for the season, I’ve also made two other committments this Lent:

  • To try and revitalise my prayer life (which if I’m honest has become somewhat lazy)
  • To genuinely offer a repentant heart before God (to search out my own faults and shortcomings, and allow God to effect changes in me)

One of my key scriptural sources at times when I’m looking for a focus for my prayer and reflections I turn to the Psalms, and it was there that I started again yesterday. I particularly focussed on Psalm 51, a psalm all about repentance and forgiveness:

1. Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

As the morning progressed, and I moved into deeper reflection and meditation upon this psalm and others, I wrote these words, which I share with you all now:

How; amongst

all the hurt and the hate,

all the fear and the greed,

all the racism and misogyny,

can we find the Way?

How; amongst

all the fake news and fake smiles,

all the dreams and the nightmares,

all the sales pitches and political spin,

can we find the Truth?

How; amongst

all the dark times and dark places,

all the turned off hearts and switched off minds,

all the snuffed out hopes and blown out dreams,

can we find the Light?

Lent is that time to go deeper, to face the reality of our own lives and existence, our own faults and failings, time to ask the big questions of ourselves, our generation, and of God. It’s a time to journey into the wilderness where (if we are fortunate) we may hear a still, small voice that helps us make a lttle more sense of it all.