“A rose’s rarest essence lives in the thorn.” –Rumi
In early January I declared 2012 The Year of Forgiveness. Since I’ve embarked on this resolution, the spiritual rewards have become more and more evident: I’m discovering that the more I forgive, the easier it becomes each time and the more at peace I am in general.
This relates to the 12 Principles of Forgiveness that I posted earlier, particularly No. 8: starting to forgive about something that’s easy and work up to the more difficult situations. I knew I had to face a particular situation that was very difficult for me, and I knew there were many people I had to forgive.
More than 15 years ago, I had a run-in with a co-worker. At least, that’s how it was presented to me – by other co-workers, by my roommate, even by the police, who wrote the truth on the report: “aggravated assault.” The implications were that it was no big deal and also that I had somehow orchestrated the whole thing – or at least that I allowed it to happen. I’m not sure how coming home from work at around 3 pm dressed in professional teacher clothes lends itself to orchestrating it, but it’s a common reaction to assaults on women: She was asking for it. This, despite the discovery that my co-worker had a criminal record a mile long. I had never been able to forgive not only the assailant but the many people who downplayed it and implied that I brought it on myself. If there’s anything that presents a barrier to forgiveness, it’s that added sense of injustice.
So I stubbornly held on to the conviction that I’d been wronged twice; the you-asked-for-it was another assault of sorts. And in the process, I elevated my own sense of victimhood about the whole thing. This, I came to learn, is precisely where my inability to forgive dwelled.
One of my favorite priests, who is a Franciscan, has quite a bit to say about the suffering we endure in our lives. Regarding the attachment to our own victimhood:
“It has been acceptable for some time in America to remain ‘wound identified’ (that is, using one’s victimhood as one’s identity, one’s ticket to sympathy, and one’s excuse for not serving) instead of using the wound to ‘redeem the world’, as we see in Jesus and many people who turn their wounds into sacred wounds that liberate both themselves and others.”
Well, I certainly understood what he means about being “wound-identified.” I wielded my victimhood like a battle-axe for years. I was needlessly defensive, quick to judge and didn’t let anyone get close. I took offense at things that weren’t offensive. I lashed out at everyone in my path, and my world was a dark, furious place. When that stopped working for me, I just buried the whole experience and moved on, suffering greatly on the inside.
A dismissive boyfriend
So when I began this resolution, I was scared to face that whole situation. I just didn’t have the energy to get angry all over again, but I knew I had to. When I finally was ready to face it, I wanted to talk about it. I spoke of it to the man I was seeing at the time, who responded with, “Yeah, well, bad things happen to all of us.” The common reaction again: no big deal. Just a run-in. Yet again my suffering was downplayed. Needless to say, I no longer have any interest in his so-called friendship.
So I re-read the 12 Principles, recited the Prayer of St. Francis and hoped for the best.
But I knew there was more work to do. I turned once again to the Franciscan priest and his ideas about the sacred wounds we carry.
He says: “[There is] an incurable wound at the heart everything.” I knew that was true. Yes, bad things do happen to all of us. And it’s also true that most of us let those bad things shape our identity. But at some point, according to this priest, we have to learn to accept and transform our wounds if we ever want to develop spiritually. He says, “your holding and suffering of this tragic wound, your persistent but failed attempts to heal it and your final surrender to it will ironically make you into a wise and holy person.”
“You will be wounded. Your work is to find God and grace inside the wounds. This is why Jesus told Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side’ (John 20:27). Thomas was trying to resolve the situation mentally, as men usually do, so Jesus had to force direct physical contact with human pain: the pain of Jesus, Thomas’ capacity for empathy with that pain, and very likely with Thomas’ own denied pain. Deep healing has to happen corporeally and emotionally, and not just abstractly.
Jesus wanted Thomas to face and feel in his body the tragedy of it all — and then know it was not tragedy at all! In that order. That is how wounds become sacred wounds. This is the pattern of all authentic conversion in the Christian economy of grace: not around, not under, not over, but through the wound we are healed and saved.”