I have been reading a novel about the Salem witch trials. I am struck with the ways in which a sense of judgement arises from fear, anger and hatred, all of which is fueled by an unforgiving heart. There is one scene in which those convicted are being taken to the hanging tree and one of the “judges” gathers them at the cell door and prays for their souls. But one of the convicts, a minister, stops and quietly powerfully prays the Lord’s Prayer. The sense among the other prisoners is that this prayer, moved among them with power.
The real power of the Lord’s Prayer, as I’ve written recently, is that we name God as God, praise his greatness, submit to his will, seek his guidance and seek his forgiveness, even as we ourselves forgive others. That one man, praying for the forgiveness of those who lied about him, and those who falsely condemned him and those who were taking him away to be hung, reminds me of another prayer, spoken from a cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Being forgiving is a powerful force, setting free those who have harmed us. Being forgiving also recognizes that sometimes people don’t really know what it is they have done. There is a saying, that hurting people, hurt people. When we live out of our own pain, our own fear, our own anger, then it is inevitable that we will live with unforgiving hearts and cause pain for others.
It struck me often as I read this novel that these communities needed to hear the story of grace. The story of love come down to earth to set us free. Instead they heard only the word of condemnation, judgement and anger. It is no wonder the people were unable to forgive, and eager to condemn, lest they be condemned. The force of condemnation can appear to be as powerful as the force of forgiveness.
But we know that forgiveness is a powerful force. It sets the prisoners free. It sets us free. And most gloriously of all, it brings the power of God’s grace and love into the world.
Today a friend posted the following prayer on Facebook. With my heart full of the lessons that I am pondering from this novel, it is my prayer this day. May it’s grace fill your lives as well.
God, grant that we may each of us cast off our own works of darkness, whatever they are, however we can, and put upon ourselves the armor of something at least a little like light as we wait for the truth of Christ to come finally and fully true at last.
~a prayer of Frederick Buechner in Secrets in the Dark, based on an ancient Advent prayer
Much peace be with all of you.