It was a lovely night for listening to the blues.
It was great to be among dear friends from the parish, too. We don’t get to see each other much these days…and when we do, our smiles are typically obscured by masks – and our erstwhile hugs replaced by pandemic-induced “elbow bumps.”
So part of me was deeply grateful to be there, in the parking lot outside our church – huddled in our designated “socially distant” circles – to take in a couple of hours of skillful guitar riffs, feverish keyboard solos, and soul-touched vocals. (The Kingdom Brothers sure can jam!)
At the same time, part of me felt the deep sadness of our circumstance in 2020. After all, this summer concert series only exists because the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed us of our accustomed routines in and around the parish. It has robbed us of our closeness, our proximity.
Now “robbed” is a loaded word, I admit. But I’m just trying to keep it real – by acknowledging a festering sore, the pain that afflicts my spirit every time I ponder the simple, lovely things I’ve “lost” to the pandemic.
And it’s a short trip, I’ve noticed, from “experiencing pain” to “seeking vengeance.” In my mind and heart, I’ve made this journey again and again over the past six months. Perhaps even “70 times seven times.” So I found it intriguing to take note of the gospel story we hear on Sunday – the parable of the unmerciful servant. The man had just been released from an enormous debt, but the master’s gift doesn’t seem to penetrate the debtor’s consciousness.
When that servant … found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount, he seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused.
It’s all too easy for us to get stuck in that sort of unforgiveness. This is particularly true when we de-personalize the other: When instead of “us”, we begin to label another sinner (or group of sinners) as “them.”
Nor is this a simple affliction to resolve. We are hardwired to fear the stranger, to expect the worst of someone we do not know. And it may be tougher yet to forgive someone we do know – someone who’s chosen to do us wrong.
The tendency is to shun any such “thems” in our lives – to impose a measure of “social distance.” To hold “them” in unforgiveness.
But lately, I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s not a better solution to embrace “proximity” instead. To choose relationship, even if it means having to forgive 70 times seven times.
This is hard work for us sinful humans. Maybe even impossible, without Christ’s grace. But unless and until we commit ourselves to a path of proximity and engagement, it seems to me we’re always going to wind up singin’ the blues.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.
More to ponder on this topic, courtesy of the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr who in Saturday’s daily reflection quotes Howard Zehr:
Ten Ways to Live Restoratively
- Take relationships seriously, envisioning yourself in an interconnected web of people, institutions, and the environment.
- Try to be aware of the impact—potential as well as actual—of your actions on others and the environment.
- When your actions negatively impact others, take responsibility by acknowledging and seeking to repair the harm—even when you could probably get away with avoiding or denying it.
- Treat everyone respectfully, even those you don’t expect to encounter again, even those you feel don’t deserve it, even those who have harmed or offended you or others.
- Involve those affected by a decision, as much as possible, in the decision-making process.
- View the conflicts and harms in your life as opportunities.
- Listen, deeply and compassionately, to others, seeking to understand even if you don’t agree with them. (Think about who you want to be in the latter situation rather than just being right.)
- Engage in dialogue with others, even when what is being said is difficult, remaining open to learning from them and the encounter.
- Be cautious about imposing your “truths” and views on other people and situations.
- Sensitively confront everyday injustices including sexism, racism, and classism [and other examples of systemic and intersectional injustice].
Howard Zehr, Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times (Herald Press: ©1990, 2015), 257—258.