|UNITY OF VANCOUVER
3814 FRANKLIN ST. VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON 98660 360-696-0996
The Grave of the Past
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
November 14, 2021
All Rights Reserved
In prayer, we join with our prayer ministry, Silent Unity and we join with those all around the world who are asking for prayer. We join people of all religions in a connection of prayer. We realize that “It is not I but the Christ within who does the works.” We are each an expression of the indwelling Christ. In this quiet, peaceful place of prayer, nothing can disturb us, for we are one with the Christ presence of peace. “The Christ Presence Fills Your Heart With Peace.”
We pray for guidance, knowing that the ever-presence Christ spirit is our inspiration and divine help. We feel the Christ presence illuminating our thoughts and guiding us to take right action for the highest good of all concerned. Knowing that we are divinely guided, we now pray for healing. We rest in the silence and feel the healing, soothing presence of divine life as it gently flows throughout our body temples in the silence of prayer.
And now we pray for a greater realization of the abundance and bountiful good that is always available to us. We recognize that we are capable, creative individuals, filled with prospering power. “The indwelling Christ presence fills you with enriching thoughts.” In this wonderful awareness, we rest in the silence.
With hearts overflowing with love, we give thanks for this loving Christ spirit and for all our many blessings as we speak together our Prayer For Protection. “The light of God surrounds us; the love of God enfolds us; the power of God protects us; and the presence of God watches over us. Wherever we are, God is! Amen.”
THE GRAVE OF THE PAST
During this week that we celebrate Veteran’s Day I’m going to talk about the grave of the past. But it isn’t a grave in the ground. It’s a grave in the subconscious mind of old angers and old resentments that don’t stay buried. When we dislike someone, the last thing we may want to do is to forgive but that’s exactly what Jesus said we must do.
During the Revolutionary War, a Minister lived in Pennsylvania, by the name of Peter Miller. Reverend Miller was greatly loved by everyone in the community except for one man. This man hated Reverend Miller. He lived right next to the church and had a reputation for harassing and abusing the Minister. This man not only hated the church and minister, but it also turned out that he was a traitor to this country. His trial was conducted in Philadelphia. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. As soon as Reverend Miller heard the news, he set out on foot to visit General George Washington and intercede for the man’s life. But Washington told him, “I’m very sorry Reverend Miller, but I can’t grant your request for your friend.” Reverend Miller said, “Friend? That man isn’t my friend, he is the worst enemy I have in the world.” General Washington said, “If you have walked 60 miles to save the life of an enemy, that in my judgment puts the matter in a different light. I will grant him a pardon for your sake.” The pardon was made out and signed by General Washington. Reverend Miller thanked General Washington and preceded as quickly as he could, once again on foot the 15-mile distance to where the execution was to take place that afternoon. He arrived just as the man was being carried up the scaffold. When the man saw Miller hurrying toward him, he said, “Well, now, look over there. There’s old Peter Miller. He has walked all the way from his home just to have his revenge gratified today by seeing me hung.” He had scarcely gotten the words out of his mouth when Miller pushed his way through to the condemned man and handed him the pardon, thus saving his life. This changed the man forever. He became a Christian and a good neighbor because he realized what the forgiving love of God is like.
Matthew 9:1-8 contains a story of forgiveness: “And getting into a boat Jesus crossed over and came to His own city. And behold, they brought to Him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, “Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He then said to the paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and& go home.” And he rose and went home.”
Jesus is saying that we are all crippled in some way unless God can move freely through our minds and hearts. He said, “Forgive before you pray.” Why? Because when you want an answer, to get that answer, it must come through you. But it can’t come through human hatred and anger and fear.
When Jesus was nailed to the Cross and had just had a spear pierce His side, he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This wasn’t said for their benefit. It was something Jesus needed to do for himself. Even if you only have one minute left in human life, how are you going to live that minute? Are you going to hang there in anger or are you going to allow the love of God to come through you? Jesus said, “I choose love of God.”
Forgiveness has been described as the odor that flowers breathe when they are trampled upon.
When Moravian Missionaries first went to minister to the Eskimos, they couldn’t find a word in their language for ‘forgiveness’ so they had to compound one. They word they created is 24 letters long. It is ‘issumagijoujungnainermik’. A word that means: “Not being able to think about it anymore.”
When Jesus was asked by one of his disciples, “Lord how many times must we forgive, as many as 7 times?” Jesus answered, “We should forgive not 7 times but 70 times.”
In other words, “As long as we keep remembering some hurt or slight, there is a need to forgive.” In Hebrews 8:12 it says: “I will remember their sins no more.” Philippians 3:13-15 say, “This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you.”
Emerson said of Lincoln: “His heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it for a memory or a wrong.”
In 1946, Czeslaw Godlewski was a member of a gang of young boys that roamed and ransacked the German countryside. On an isolated farm, they gunned down 10 members of the Wilhelm Hamelmann family; 9 died and only Wilhelm survived his 4 bullet wounds. Godleski spent 20 years in prison for his crimes. But then the state wouldn’t release him because he had nowhere to go. When Hamelmann learned of the situation, he asked authorities to release Godleski to his custody. He wrote this in his request: “God has forgiven my sins. Should I not forgive this young man of his? He lived with the man for the rest of his life.
During the Korean War, a South Korean Christian civilian was arrested by the Communists and ordered to be shot. But when the young Communist leader in charge of carrying out the sentence learned his prisoner oversaw an orphanage caring for small children, he decided to spare the man and kill his 19-year-old son instead. Later, the fortunes of war changed, and the young Communist leader was captured by United Nations forces, tried, and condemned to death. Before the sentence could be carried out, the Christian whose son had been killed pleaded for his life, saying that he was young and didn’t know what he was doing. He said, “Give him to me and I will train him.” His request was granted, and the father took the murderer of his son home and cared for him. Over time the young Communist became a very successful Christian minister.
It has been said that every enemy you make has 10 friends. The only way to break the cycle hate, anger and revenge is through forgiveness. If the consciousness of revenge is left unchecked, we will have nothing but reoccurring hatred and war. Forgiveness of the past is the only answer. We must forgive and learn to work together and press on.
Anger is only one letter away from the word ‘danger.’ When someone betrays a trust, makes false accusations, or acts in ways that we feel can’t be accepted, our ability to forgive is put to the test. We must be willing to say, “Through the love of God in me, I am able and willing to forgive.”
In Ephesians 4:31 it says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” The Truth of the matter is that the longer you hold a grudge, the longer you nurse it, the worse it gets. Unity’s co-founder, Charles Fillmore said, “Everyday examine your heart and forgive someone. Every night before you go to bed, forgive all those who have done you wrong during the day. There are two things that are bad for the heart: running upstairs and running down people.”
Jesus was pointing this out when he told his story of the Prodigal Son. You know the story so I’m not going to retell it but one of the unexpected elements in his story is forgiveness. The Prodigal Son expected punishment from his father, for squandering his inheritance but when he returned home, he found only free flowing love. He felt almost overwhelmed by guilt but is met by his Father without a word of reproach, anger, or judgment. The past was completely forgiven. In a world of anger, such unconditional loving treatment, such complete acceptance, and forgiveness, is not only unexpected but on the human level it is almost incomprehensible. Jesus taught that God’s message to all of us is very simply, “You are forgiven and so is everyone else.” As it says in Job 11:16, “You will forget your misery.”
“Time heals all wounds, softens all disappointments and eases all pain.” These words by Cicero are true. Few of us would deny that. Most of us have had numerous experiences where embarrassment, anger, awkwardness, grief, and shame all become less intense in time. Eventually, almost by themselves, they slip into the background. We forget about them. Distance has the same effect. A change of scenery, a change of friendships, avoiding certain neighborhoods, certain rooms in the house, certain people... our pain recedes. But inevitably, almost certainly, a smell, a picture, a familiar book on the shelf, a time of year... something will trigger a flood of memories and with them the unwelcome emotions we stowed away. We discover we have not healed, but simply avoided. Time is not always an ally. It can also be a curse for it provides the illusion that there will always be another day to heal. We tell ourselves, “I will apologize tomorrow. I will tell her how I feel tomorrow. I will set the record straight, be a better father, follow my conscience, start building my dreams, tell her I love her, tomorrow.”
Distance provides no relief either unless we are willing to scratch places off the list of places we go, and scratch people to be with off the list. Doing so relegates us to living in a smaller and smaller world. Separating us from family, from ourselves, from our chances to make amends. It doesn’t work. There is a need to confront what stands between us and the impulse to love and to make sense of our lives.
If we don’t reckon with it in our own time, time will do it for us. In these matters, death becomes the great equalizer. Whether we admit to it or not, we are always issued a “dead-line” to do the work of making lifelines. Rather than Cicero I more often turn to the words of Hippocrates, the great physician when he said, “Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes a matter of opportunity.”
No matter what kind of dance we may do with time or distance, how many illusions we clutch onto for comfort, how many opportunities we claim are still before us - a better time, a better place, we eventually realize that healing and leading a life of meaning requires work. Work we can’t abdicate to others or to time or to chance. It may not take much effort to just live and simply to pass from one day to the next, but it takes a lot of effort to live with meaning.
My work as a Minister and working with people who are dying has helped me learn this. Being around those who are dying, including my own family members has revealed to me a great deal about living. Yet there is an agony in discovering there are no formulas telling us how to go about it. How to do it well. How to do it right.
One hospitalized person I visited early in my ministry said something I’ll always remember. Lying in bed, just diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive cancer, Mr. Jones sent his family outside and invited me to come speak with him. “I’d always thought I’d have more time,” he said. At 58 he’d just retired and was looking forward to spending time with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. He’d worked hard to be able to set this time aside to enjoy. During this period of hard work, he’d left things undone, unsaid, unreconciled with almost every member of his family. Not big things, but important things like: trips not taken, achievements not celebrated, gatherings, which were never quite convenient. Chances to say, “I was proud of you when…” “I know you were hoping I was different. I’m sorry I wasn’t, or couldn’t be, or never got a chance to be.” “I love you and wish I could have loved you more.”
There are no formulas. But I’d venture to say there is one overarching goal we all strive for. At the end of our life, we want to look back on the entirety of our living - our memories of hopes and dreams, the broken pieces of our failings and what we managed to do with them - look at all of this, and like Jesus say, “It is finished. Amen.”
“It wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t perfect. Hopes and dreams were left unrealized and for this I am sorry. I share my disappointments so I can let them go. But there were many good parts. The dreams we did share, the hopes we did make real, made it all worth it. I’m glad I had the chance to know you and to be with you. Amen.”
Mary Oliver, in her poem, “Blackwater Woods” offers these immortal words. “To live in this world, we must be able to do three things. To love what is mortal. To hold it against our bones knowing our own life depends upon it and when the time comes to let it go.”
What is mortal is always flawed and temporal. It comes to pass. To hold it against our bones is a deep and holy gesture. It is a reconciling and without it we will forever struggle with the part about letting go. Mr. Jones knew this. We talked about those places left untouched in his life - in his relationships – things that he needed to address with his family. Places of estrangement he needed to replace with connection. He said to me. “I’ve only got one shot at this dying thing. I don’t want to screw it up.”
One by one, in pairs and in groups, over the next three weeks, he brought family members and close friends into his room to share with him his life: His hopes, his sorrows, his gratitude, his regrets, his forgiveness and his acceptance of those who needed forgiving. It was tough work. I am happy to say, he didn’t screw it up. Neither did he make it perfect.
We never say it all. We are always left with the feeling we could have - “should have” - done more. We don’t always know what. But some estrangement is almost always left lingering. So, when the time comes to let it go few of us can let it all completely go. This is especially true for those who leave it to the last minute.
The work of saying “Amen” to our human life is hard work because it is soul work.
Soul work is what spirituality and religion are really supposed to be about and help us to do meaningfully and thoroughly. “Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die.”
It is not pretty words or spiritual mumbo jumbo. It is hard spiritual work.
Work we have the opportunity to address everyday. Little by little, we must summon our courage, risk our pride, and find ways to say, to each day and every moment of our lives.
“It is finished. Amen”
What do you think?
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.