For the past two years, I’ve been given a star word for Epiphany, courtesy of my friend Marci, a Presbyterian minister who practices the tradition with her congregation in Boise, Idaho.
My star word for 2016 was pardon – not a word, I confess, that intuitively had resonance with me. I started off thinking about what I’ve done wrong – some of the (many, daily) things for which I might want and need to seek pardon. I thought of some biblical examples where pardon is granted, and the power of that forgiveness – the parable of the Prodigal Son; Joseph forgiving the brothers who cast him out in Genesis; Jesus forgiving the woman who washed his feet with her tears (and seeing her as a woman, a person, not just branded by her failures); Jesus on the cross, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
As the months progressed, I thought increasingly about some relationships with rough edges – relationships tinged with both love and sometimes with difficulty or tension. Am I supposed to offer pardon or forgiveness when things don’t go well? For some reason, that didn’t seem to fit – not that generosity and healing in those situations aren’t warranted, but more that it didn’t seem true to paint myself as the good or right (or powerful) person in the relationship, offering the other party pardon. It’s usually more messy and nuanced than that. In one case, a friendship has gradually become more distant – my friend has burdens of her own and a busy life, and even though I miss her company, I suspect she’s doing the best she can. So yes to showing grace and love to one another in the hard times, to acknowledging that we’re both imperfect and both trying – maybe more of a mutual pardon.
Pardon became for me less of a particular act, and more an ongoing effort to be more gentle with others in their daily struggles, and with myself too. Sometimes I text my friend, just to wish her a good day or let her know I’m thinking of her. She always answers back.
Through the year, the idea of pardon for me in the public sphere also got less clear and less certain. What are the implications of pardon when there are inequities in the ways people are treated or when there is real suffering? During this contentious election season, I’ve though a lot about the importance both of trying to understand those who see the world so differently than I do – to try to listen and learn – but also to stand up for what I think is right. I’m trying to keep this in mind:
What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? MICAH 6:8