Sara Whitman

Forgiveness and Fire

Filed By Sara Whitman | April 05, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: First Universalist Society, James Ishmael Ford

I have spent much of the last few days searching the word "forgiveness" on the internet. The act itself feels pretty shallow. Before I can get to renewal, I realize I must get to forgiveness first.

It is not easy.

I came across a blog of my old minister, James Ishmael Ford. I adored James, and loved listening to him speak on Sunday mornings at the First Universalist Society in Newton. He is a Soto Zen priest and a Unitarian Universalist minister.

He reached me, over and over again. At the time I was an exhausted mother of three young kids, an avowed atheist and only going to church to keep the wife happy. He did not speak of God so much as he spoke of being awake.

And in being awake, you will find God- or whatever you may wish to call it.

I searched through his blog, looking for pieces on forgiveness. I found a lot of different sermons I liked. I do love the way he thinks, how he wraps the universal with the local, with the personal.

And really, no god. Well, in the context of spiritual text, sure.

I don't know why I have such a hard time with God, except to say that my father was "religious" and it creeped me out. He told me god talked to him- or maybe it was the mafia. I always had the sense that his abuse of my sister and I came from him thinking god was telling him what to do.

Leaves one with a bitter taste about god, as you can expect.

Personally, I think you can find a deep sense of spirituality without a church, a cross, or little wafers. But it is those rituals that give meaning, I suppose, of the sense of awakening.

But I don't need to find God right now, I need to find forgiveness. I have people in my life that have meant so much to me and if I don't get to a place of forgiveness, I will lose them.

My sister always pushes me to forgive my father. And others. Forgiveness, she said, gives you the chance to heal. To let it go.

Ten million years later, it seems, I am still not ready to let it go. Not with him.

But I must find forgiveness. I am going to lose something too precious. I tried, with unfortunate results. It came across as vindictive, and angry. I am angry, mind you. With good reason.

But that is not the result I want. Fire against fire... what good is that?

I go back to Rev. Ford's words- he talks about fire, and the symbolism in Hanukkah.

"I suggest we need, each of us, to draw upon our own deepest resources, the fire within. We need to recall the many different flames that inform us. That atavistic flame, for a start, the fire that gave humanity warmth and food and, of course, weapons. We need to recall the fires on the altars of the ancient Greeks and Romans. And, of course, we need to recall how that fire, when it seemed not enough, lasted, for eight days.

It is that last flame, the flame which sustains us past all reason, that I feel we're mainly called to reflect upon today. Swinburne got it right. It is the flame of love. It is the miracle at the heart of our lives, a gift passed on to us, and which we are honor bound to pass on to others.

That's the miracle that births love into the world. That is the flame which burns and burns throughout time, and across space.


I don't want to use fire as a weapon. I don't want to fight anymore. I want forgiveness.

I just haven't found the right words yet.

Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 5, 2010 10:19 AM


You can do one of two things. Be like most people and waste energy living with a grudge or acting as a bitter victim. Or in my case, I do not "forgive" many folks, but I resolve my issues with them, move on, and close old doors. It is just for you and it is in your shiny bright private space. Own it completely and share it with only those who deserve it.

I have long believed that when a person has proven to be a greater source of negatives then positives in your life it is your duty to yourself (and those you care about) to absent yourself from interaction. You can be in the room with that person (out of comfort to others) and have surface civility, but they cannot get in to your private "space" ever again.

Do you think that if you substituted the word "resolve" for "forgive" it would help?

A. J. Lopp | April 5, 2010 10:45 AM

Sara, I find that Christianity is good at "preaching" forgiveness, but not at teaching us how to forgive. Nor is it any good at demonstrating a good example of practicing forgiveness.

You mention that minister Ford was also a Soto Zen priest. I'm not familiar with that particular flavor of Buddhism, but I do know that Buddhism in general has a set of meditation exercises that are designed to help one find forgiveness. You might want to do a search for those exercises and explore whether they can be of help to you.

My problem with forgiveness is that it's usually seen as a "It's okay. What you did won't be remembered and I won't judge you on that moment any longer."

Bullshit. My dad raped me. Repeatedly. Nothing will ever make that "okay." I will not forget and I will always judge him by those actions.

Forgiveness is not possible and it shouldn't be. His crime is crimson and whitewashing over it just leaves a dark spot under the pristine clean attempt to gloss things over.

So if you can't find forgiveness, forgive yourself for that "sin," and realize that some things are just so bad that they don't deserve that grace from the offended.

Holy fuck, Bil... prolly doesn't help, but I am so sorry. You are in my thoughts.


Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 7, 2010 5:22 AM

Bil, I cannot tell you how much I understand your sense of betrayal. I also cannot express enough how fortunate I was to have a truly saintly father. In the whole mix master of emotions we walk around with every day I turn it into a near mathematical equation. Those things I am, or am not, prepared to put up with, but the old shit behind the closed doors is gone.

Now, in that I have never been analyzed perhaps I should see a shrink, oops I lived 34 years with a PhD in psychology and he seems crazy to me, so there is no hope (for me at least).

None of it is ever "all right" but it is also "all old."

True Forgiveness: Deciding to let someone else carry the crap they created, and deciding your done carrying it yourself.