As is often the case, the words and image above seemingly came together of their own accord. I tried to change them more than once, thinking that "forgiveness is free" sounded rather banal. However, each time I replaced the words with something else, it simply didn't look or feel right.
And so my assignment is before me, to reflect on and make some sense of a phrase that I have discovered is far more enigmatic than it appeared at first glance.
Is forgiveness free? If I offer another forgiveness, does it truly cost me nothing? If I accept the forgiveness of another, is there never a price to pay?
And why this image?
Before I attempt any reflection on these questions, allow me to share a short but intriguing story.
After working for a few hours yesterday, I decided to take a short walk with my camera. The weather was seasonably chilly with a brisk wind and leaves were falling around me. I did not venture anyplace far or fancy this time. I walked two lots down from my house, noticing some of the beautiful colors still hanging onto the trees.
As I stood gazing upon the scene, I felt something slip into my left hand. This was a very odd sensation, given that I had not had my hand open or outstretched. I wasn't trying to catch any of the leaves falling around me nor was I grasping at anything.
I looked down into my hand and there was a thin, twisted taupe-colored leaf, nothing particularly special looking. I almost dropped it to the ground but thought twice.
I could not see any meaning or value to this little leaf but it is not every day that the heavens drop something into my hand. Perhaps I should hold onto it for a while, I thought.
I only walked around for a short while but I was very aware of this little leaf in my hand. It felt brittle and so I handled it with care, wondering why it had been given to me.
When I got back inside, I still puzzled. Perhaps I shall take a picture of it in my hand, I considered. I don't know why this seemed important but it did. So I changed the lens on my camera and walked back outdoors, in order to view it in natural light.
Somewhere in the process of this, I detected something I had not noticed before. The center of it was darker and a bit thicker than the edges. It was not a leaf but a seed pod! A seed had been cast out into the wind, to twirl its dance of chance and it had landed in my hand...
What could it possibly mean?
(I realize that the average reader may be thinking: "It probably means nothing. Why is she going on about this?")
Perhaps it caught my attention so for a couple of reasons.
One is that a seed is a very important thing. On a biological level, it holds within it the beginnings of life. Much of the life on this planet would cease were it not for seeds of some sort or another.
On a spiritual level, seeds are very important as well. When it comes to believing in and loving the Holy, it is often a seed that begins the process. Some little seed of wondering or longing implants itself in our hearts, perhaps remaining tenuous for months or even years before it germinates and grows.
This sacred seed also holds within it the beginnings of life. But in this case it is a Life that rescues us from the eternal death.
Hence, that this gift was a seed caught my attention once I recognized it for what it was. But perhaps what had intrigued me first and foremost was that it was totally free. I had not asked for it nor had I been looking for it. It was simply given.
As I reflect on this further, the thought occurs to me: if heaven could give me any gift, if it could freely drop into my hand the seed for any new growth, what would I most hope that it would be?
And I could think of nothing more important, nothing that I would long for more than forgiveness.
Back to the image above. In my lens-view, there are two leaves of the same type. However, they are on separate branches and look as though they have moved as far away from each other as possible. I know this is fanciful thinking on my part...but it also looks a little like the lower leaf is shielding itself behind some twigs.
It is as though they are afraid to get too close to each other. "I'll keep my distance and watch you from here, thank you very much."
We cannot see in the image how they came to be so far apart. We don't know who started it or whose fault it is. Who needs to forgive and who needs to be forgiven is beyond calculation. We can only see a separateness which reminds of us of ourselves in our broken humanity.
Separateness from each other. Separateness from God.
To choose to remain separate is the eternal death. Not because God casts us into hell - but because apart from Him there can be no Life.
It is only through forgiveness that we can find our way back from this separateness, back into the Way of Love.
When we are made hurt or angry, by anything from the slight of a friend to an unfair boss to childhood abuse, we become lost in arguments of blame or hide behind barriers of self-protection.
When we have done wrong and know it, we may torment ourselves with guilt and shame - or we may deny and defend to avoid these unbearable emotions.
In any event, it is only through forgiveness that we can come back to Life again.
In the Way of Love, there is no distinction between forgiving and being forgiven. One cannot be without the other.
This is why the Christ taught us to pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". I do not think that He was issuing a threat, i.e. "you had better forgive or you will not be forgiven!"
Rather, I think, He was simply stating a fact. If I do not forgive, I will be unable to experience forgiveness in myself. If I do not accept the forgiveness offered to me, I myself will not know how to forgive. It may sound like a circular dilemma, too hard to understand, but it is not.
Forgiveness is free.
It begins as a seed. It has been freely dropped by the heavens into our hands, into our hearts. It may lie there for a long time, dormant, buried beneath our excuses and our fears. We may not know how to make it grow.
Its growth begins as a decision. I may not want to forgive. I may not know how. I may feel unworthy of forgiveness or not believe it possible.
But I decide - and then trust that the seed will grow within me. I choose the Way of love and forgiveness.
(For those who expressed interest in learning more about Corrie ten Boom's experience of forgiveness, I have added an update to my past post which you can view by clicking here.)