Forgiveness is a nonsense word for anyone unaware of being an oppressor. The risen Lord, with the 5 wounds – at once dead and alive – shows that we cannot obliterate or remove what we have done. God is faithful to himself as Creator and will destroy nothing created, but through the risen Lord restores all things to us again, giving us the second chance – to say yes where we formerly said no. This reality of God to keep the past open gets rid of our delusion that oppressive violence has the last say.
God identifies with the victim through his incarnate reality as pure victim – a mature human being who owns no violence, nor seeks revenge, this union of victim and Father – who knows no death – now becomes our memory and our salvation through the Resurrection. Before ever we become conscious of it we are swallowed up by a world saturated with oppressive victimising.
God is the presence to which all reality is present, giving back our memories of our oppressive living because my whole self is in need of redemption, including my past. My self as it is now is what my past is presently doing. It is not acting, deciding independently of where I have been. I am not just a product of my past, I have the ability through memory and reflection to be prompted to transcend – to take another way. While my past is unalterable – it has happened; how can this set me free?
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment of all that you have done and been; the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill-done and done to others’ harm; which once you took for exercise of virtue – T.S. Eliot: Little Gidding II.
Forgiveness cannot be abstract – it brings freedom and the recovery of my past in hope. It is seeing the victim as saviour that is crucial. But how does it work? Every saint has a past, and every sinner a future.
The disciples’ first faith in Jesus had to be transformed – when they met him they left their nets and followed him – after Calvary they went back to their nets, as if Jesus had never happened. It is the stranger on the shore – Jesus as he is, not as they think him to be, who shows the way to real living. He is preparing food, he doesn’t need the fish they’ve brought, but invites them to bring it and share – and it is in the sharing that they recognise him.
He is calling now as he did then – in between is their history of betrayal. His 3 fold questioning of Peter has found many interpretations, but to see it as highlighting Peter’s 3 fold disowning is to miss the whole point. Peter cannot be free without recovering his past, if he is to be the Peter Jesus sees, and no longer the hesitant and fearful Simon. Recalling memory in this positive way is very different from being made to remember what you’ve done.
Matthew’s Gospel sends them back to Galilee, and from there be sent to the whole world – not to return to fishing – I will make you a fisher of men – it is a promise kept. They go back to their origins to emerge in a new way, as Jesus told Nicodemus. They had started as men of hope and found themselves abandoning and betraying. In seeing this in the light of Jesus risen they experience forgiveness and find themselves trusted again. This highlights conversion as being for the whole self, and not simply starting afresh and trying to do better. Peter realises that his betrayal does not cause God to betray.
But simply recovering my past is not, in itself, an experience of Grace – it can haunt and dismay me. When done in the context of Resurrection there is a new perspective. The Lord who has come back risen still wants me as I am and my love. Simon, do you love me is asked in the context of all that he has done and is an invitation to carry on growing. The recovery of pardoned memory is crucial for moving forward in hope. There is nothing about me that God finds unacceptable, including my sin; since God is faithful to me no matter what.
Before the risen Jesus can be preached to the City that killed him, he needs to be back with those dearest to him, and show their part in his death – they had the greatest hope and so the greatest disillusion. They need to see their part in the violence of his death but within the context of the pure victim – back with them and desiring their company. This didn’t just bring a re-think to the Apostles – they are being evangelised by the pure victim risen, betrayed but never betraying. My connection with him led him to the cross, not so his connection with me. To know the reality of my untruthful living, and not be intimidated by it through the Resurrection, is memory restored in hope.
He promised that the Spirit would lead us into all truth, and make clear everything Jesus had said – we are being given both a past and a future in an entirely new way. Forgiveness means seeing the victim as saviour and what I can become as a consequence.
Yesterday I alluded to ‘naught for your comfort’, hope against hope, citing this stanza from Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. You’ll find it on the Web.
“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.”
The words are given to Mary, mother of Jesus, appearing to King Alfred in a vision. Later Alfred calls for support from his ally Mark, a Roman living a Roman life in Wessex, who drank his own wine when all the kings drank ale.
“These vines be ropes that drag me hard,”
He said. “I go not far;
Where would you meet? For you must hold
Half Wiltshire and the White Horse wold,
And the Thames bank to Owsenfold,
If Wessex goes to war.
“Guthrum sits strong on either bank
And you must press his lines
Inwards, and eastward drive him down;
I doubt if you shall take the crown
Till you have taken London town.
For me, I have the vines.”
“If each man on the Judgment Day
Meet God on a plain alone,”
Said Alfred, “I will speak for you
As for myself, and call it true
That you brought all fighting folk you knew
Lined under Egbert’s Stone.
“Though I be in the dust ere then,
I know where you will be.”
And indeed the vines are not enough to hold Mark back when his duty lies with his King; after great bravery in battle he was killed and ‘died without a sound.’
Mark recognised, in rather more dramatic circumstances than Roger Deakin in yesterday’s post, that we are only passing through this world, though he dearly loved his corner of it – as Roger Deakin did.
Do read his book as well as GKC’s! Wildwood, a journey through trees, Penguin, 2008.
I’d rather show you this than a motorway junction! We are at Ashford International station in Kent, where I change trains on my way to work most weeks, and where occasionally we change trains en route to France, Belgium or beyond.
A junction on the motorway does not give chance to stop and stare, as one can at Ashford International. Where is that woman going, I wonder? My son’s friend from school greets me as he goes about his work on the platform.The sparrows chatter over a few crumbs tossed around one of the benches.
The non-stop Eurostar roars through to Paris, a life-changing trip for some. And those alighting from the inbound Eurostar: will they feel welcome on English soil? I once met a former pupil who had completely changed his name – not even using the same initials – to start a new life here with his young lady, forty miles from where he had lived with a neglectful mother and stepfather. Every day is new!
And always there are the anxious ones who do not trust the departure boards or announcements, sometimes with good reason. They ask the platform staff, is this the right train? They get on board, they ask their fellow passengers, is this the right train? If the guard comes by, they ask, is this the right train? On the train they make for the door as soon as their station is announced, unaware it is five minutes or more away.
My friends, there actually is time to stop and stare, so sit back and relax!
Oh, there’s my train coming in: I’d best make sure I ‘join the correct portion of the train’, or who knows where I’ll be! Safe home!
Francis Thompson turned up again after I’d put his series to bed, so I’ll share this now. W. H. Davies was another poet who lived on the streets, though he was to find friendship and marriage and a long life span.
In this Davies uses his memories of seafaring and tramping to imagine Thompson’s life before he was welcomed into the life of the Meynell family. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head when he was travelling the dusty roads of Palestine. Can we see him in the homeless people we meet in the street? How best to give them bread and not stones?
Francis Thompson by W. H. Davies
Thou hadst no home, and thou couldst see
In every street the windows’ light:
Dragging thy limbs about all night,
No window kept a light for thee.
However much thou wert distressed,
Or tired of moving, and felt sick,
Thy life was on the open deck—
Thou hadst no cabin for thy rest.
Thy barque was helpless ‘neath the sky,
No pilot thought thee worth his pains
To guide for love or money gains—
Like phantom ships the rich sailed by.
Thy shadow mocked thee night and day,
Thy life’s companion, it alone;
It did not sigh, it did not moan,
But mocked thy moves in every way.
In spite of all, the mind had force,
And, like a stream whose surface flows
The wrong way when a strong wind blows,
It underneath maintained its course.
Oft didst thou think thy mind would flower
Too late for good, as some bruised tree
That blooms in Autumn, and we see
Fruit not worth picking, hard and sour.
Some poets feign their wounds and scars.
If they had known real suffering hours,
They’d show, in place of Fancy’s flowers,
More of Imagination’s stars.
So, if thy fruits of Poesy
Are rich, it is at this dear cost—
That they were nipt by Sorrow’s frost,
In nights of homeless misery.
“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
When I told Anne (see August 14 2016) I was sharing Francis Thompson on the blog, she said, ‘Francis Thompson, my father’s favourite writer.’ I hope you can see why. Maurice.
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity,
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again;
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With grooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed majestic instancy
And past those noisèd Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet—
“Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly,
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
‘Unperturbèd pace, Deliberate speed’ – we can trust God to save us in his own time and as Good Shepherd he will seek out the lost. Maurice.
I sought no more that, after which I strayed,
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured daïs,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.”
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with—made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine—
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: II
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
“Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”
I return to ‘unperturbèd pace, / Deliberate speed’ as an image of God at work which makes sense to one who would be his ‘servitor’. Thompson did like his words!