Last week I attended the first residency of the Way of Ministry Program of the School of the Spirit at Pendle Hill. During my first peer group session I shared about a difficult experience in my ministry. At almost the end of the time a Friend asked if I had considered forgiveness for the people involved and for myself. I said that I had not and that I would have to take this up as a homework assignment.
Every morning we started with meeting for worship. The next morning I walked into meeting with my half-finished mug of coffee from breakfast still in my hand. The moment my butt touched the cushion a prayer came to me “God help me pray for my enemies.” This was a real surprise to me. First of all I usually spend the first moments in worship settling myself physically, mentally and spiritually. So here God was giving me a prayer right off of the top. The second surprising thing was that I don't usually think of myself as having enemies. I get along with most people. I try to be agreeable and to find common ground. The third and most surprising thing was that I knew immediately who the people were that I needed to pray for. These were not enemies in the abstract but specific people in my life.
The image I have always held about enemies was that they were the armies that were invading my country. People did not become enemies until they committed some extreme act of aggression against me or a group I identified with. It was even better if they were abstract and generalized. Then I thought about how wars really happen. A country becomes your enemy before the battle start. They have already become your enemy when you start planning for the battle. It starts when you start thinking about the other as totally alien. It starts when you decide that the other needs to be overcome by whatever means are necessary. Having an enemy has nothing to do with what the other has done. It is all about your attitude towards them.
I thought about myself and I thought about Friends in general. I find myself asking if George Bush and Dick Cheney are our enemies. How about John McCain? How about fundamentalist Christians or homophobes? Are Barack Obama and liberal democrats the enemy? Or liberal Friends? How about non-theist Friends or pagan Friends? Are they the enemy?
So here was God not only reminding me of my assignment but helping me get started.
Later in the week I was talking with my prayer partner about what we might do between residencies. I said that praying for people was not part of my regular practice. For whatever reason it was not something that I usually did. But I said that I would work on doing so, that it seemed like a useful discipline to undertake. I would take this as homework. I really should learn faster.
The next day in worship I sat down and from the beginning I found myself picturing one of the people from my list of enemies being surrounded by white light. I hate the phrase “hold something or someone in the Light.” It seems like a phrase used by liberal Friends who are nervous about the idea of prayer. When I am feeling curmudgeonly I think, “Just come out and ask us to pray for this.” Holding someone in the Light smacks too much of somehow the outcome is our doing. Praying is acknowledging that whatever happens it is God who has done the work. And here I was literally holding my enemy in the Light. I found myself praying for their healing – not even knowing what they might need to be healed from but knowing that we all bear wounds that need healing. I found myself praying that God's grace come into this persons life in whatever way God wanted. I did not want healing for them so that they would start doing what I wanted them to do. I found myself asking for the best that God has to offer. Throughout that meeting for worship, whenever I found myself straying, I returned to the image of this face framed with white light and it powerfully recentered me. I knew that there were other people I needed to pray for but I felt that God would lead me to that. There were people I was not yet ready to pray for. Since then some of those names have been added to my prayers.
When I got home I started reading If Grace is True by Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland. I picked it up because it was an easy read, it is relatively short and it is not on the Way of Ministry reading list for the next residency. It seems that it was on the reading list for the School of Christ. It speaks powerfully to the grace of God. It is reinforcing the work of forgiveness that is at work in me. It also reinforces for me that I will be doing this work with God all of the way. I will not be doing this by my will or strength. This is good because both are inadequate to the task.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing that others? Do not event the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:44-48]
Blessings to all,
Labels: forgiveness, Way of Ministry