This morning, I had an interesting discussion with a group of people from Church. As we prepare and proceed through Advent, the season of preparation, there are several of us that have signed up to participate in a discussion group together. We read stories from a book called Yards of Purple, by Sarah M. Foulger, and discuss them, one story per Saturday, through the Advent season.
The book follows the lectionary cycle, which makes it very easy to relate to the particular reading for the Sunday that will follow, and also makes it very easy to remember that the whole purpose isn’t so much to have a book-club discussion, but to relate the stories and passages from The Bible to the messages that God has for each of us.
Today’s story is called “Miracle Cookies”, and relates to the lectionary passages from Isaiah 2:4, and Matthew 24:42. The story centers around an inner-city, gang-infested neighborhood, and what happens when two elderly men who have been sworn enemies for almost sixty years decide to try and make a change. One of the men, known to us as “Old Man Williams”, decides that he’s tired of living in fear, and takes the very courageous steps to go his ex-friend, in a spirit of forgiveness and “with the kernel of an idea.”
What happens next is the spreading of this movement, which they name “Swords into Plowshares”, and the joining and coming together of various people and businesses to try to make a difference in the lives and times of this community. We don’t know what the end result is, in the very broad sense, but we do know that even Janine, who bakes the cookies that form the title, has “tried to keep her well-developed skepticism far from the making of them.”
Interesting, to me, was the discussion that we had; and how many of our small group (there were only nine of us there today) focused on the forgiveness aspect of the story. Several people said that what they took away most, was the feeling that one can forgive another, as Christ has forgiven us, if only we can be open to try. We discussed how difficult it can be, sometimes, to reach out, to make that first effort, but how necessary and affirming it really is, when we do make that attempt.
One of the women said something about how hard it can be, particularly if the problem, the behavior that needs forgiving, is repeatedly occurring; she said she struggles, when the forgiveness is required “over, and over, and over- with no sign of acknowledgment from him.”
At that point, our Rector spoke up, agreeing with her, and said it feels sometimes, in his own life, like “getting poked in the eye. Then you come back for more, and get poked, and it repeats itself.”
We talked then, about the old testament, and the repeated failings of the people of Israel to follow and keep the commandments of God, and yet his repeated forgiveness, and willingness to try again, showing and redeeming over and over again, demonstrates vividly His love for us. We laughed, of course, because none of us are God, and if we were, perhaps we wouldn’t struggle so with the idea that even when someone has done us wrong, we are to forgive, and forgive, and forgive again, as many times as is needed.
Funny, though, at that moment, as we all sat there, together, there was a period of silence. Not asked for, as one might after prayer, or before, but spontaneous. Just a time when as we all looked around at one another, no one was willing to break the silence. Everyone was reflecting, and while I don’t know what was in the others’ heads, I know that I was very conscious of my failings in that; that, all to human, I fail to live up to that example, that I, in my frailty and weakness, am not so good at this.
So the take-away from this, or part of it anyway, for me- is that it’s okay to forgive, and it’s okay to forgive the very fact that forgiveness might be repeatedly needed. I can try, as Advent progresses, to remember the example of “Old Man Williams”, and look for batch of Miracle Cookies, in my own life.