St. Matthew 6.vv.5-15

~ Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues, and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. ~

It is rather sad if one is remembered only for a saying that seems at first to be wise, but on closer examination is seen to be at the best only a half truth or at the worst a doubtful proposition. Henry Ward Beecher (died 1887) was one of the foremost American preachers and lecturers of his day, and is often remembered for the saying "I can forgive but I cannot forget" is only another way of saying "I cannot forgive". Of course, it depends on how you say it, for if the failure to forget is simply hypocritical and a nursing of one's wrath to keep it warm, as Burns would say, then Henry is quite right.

On the other hand, since active, conscious forgetting is psychologically almost impossible, provided that forgiveness given and received is genuine, it would seem more conducive to spiritual health, progress and peace to treat such memories as infinitely precious memories.

I treasure the memories of forgiveness given and received at human level in so many instances in my life, especially in the contact with family and marriage (where we usually wreak the most havoc!), experiences painful at the time, but not ones that I would like to forget; for our spiritual life is built up not on a vacuum or forgetfulness but on positive memories that warm and encourage us. Such precious memories can and should be a spur to our further spiritual development and interpersonal relationships.

How much more therefore should we treasure the memories of God's forgiveness. It is significant that when Jesus taught His disciples the "Our Father" the only clause which He expanded and elaborated was the need to forgive others as we hope to receive the divine forgiveness. The parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18 vv.21 to end reinforces this teaching. The account of Corrie Ten Boom forgiving the ex Ravensbruck guard (first she had to pray earnestly for God's forgiveness for herself), and similar modern instances of forgiving love, emphasise the point that when God bids us forgive others He supplies the love which makes it possible for us.

Without love there can be no forgiveness, for forgiveness springs from love.

For the Christian, despite the knowledge and conviction that our sins can be and are forgiven, there remains very often a well nigh intractable problem of accepting oneself and becoming a well integrated person, because one is a "haunted person".

There is a tendency for the "unacceptable self" of the past (whose sins, albeit, have been forgiven) to return as a spectre, to trouble the peace of mind of the victim. To treat this "revenant" in a negative way, wishing it to go away, seeking to exorcise it or disregard it, can lead to a morbidity of spirit and psychological dis-ease, for the more one attempts to banish it the stronger becomes the haunting.

By bitter experience, and by the grace of God, I have been led to believe that the solution to this problem lies in accepting the "unacceptable" self in a positive way, (indeed of welcoming the ghost), and seeing in it a signal proof of God's good grace in providing us with an "angel of light", i.e. a token and promise of what by His grace we may become - the spectre is but the foil of that better self which we long to be and by God's grace can become.

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