I covenant to be forgiving…
This is the third line of the covenant I wrote to you, the congregation, in 2018 when I began this work as your Spiritual Life Director.
I want to add to this line: … and I covenant to be accountable for my own actions and seek forgiveness when I have hurt you.
I wrote this covenant at a time when the congregation was moving forward after some tough times. We were starting anew and willing to experiment. “Experilearning” we called it. There’s always mistakes that will be made when trying new things and forgiveness is essential. But forgiveness is no less essential now than it was then. We live in rapidly changing, post-pandemic times, and there’s a lot of uncertainty going around. New things will happen and none of us know the perfect way to respond to change. Can we count on one another to be forgiving in order to continue to sustain the life of the church?
In the Jewish tradition, forgiveness is serious business. During the High Holy Days, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is necessary to seek forgiveness from those you have hurt in order to be written into the Book of Life for another year. This system of forgiveness involves human interaction. One cannot be forgiven if the injured does not forgive. As UU minister, Elizabeth Lerner Maclay, who was raised in a Jewish family, stated:
Divine forgiveness doesn’t come into play—it just can’t—unless obligations on the human level have been satisfied. If those obligations don’t take place, the results are very tangible: One doesn’t get written into the book of life at the next New Year. It’s not about burning later in hell; the threat is much more immediate: You put your life here and now in jeopardy when you walk around with unforgiven wrongs attached to you.
I think we can connect to this from the context of our Unitarian Universalist faith which is centered on building relationships and creating the Beloved Community in the here and now. “It is a theological system of right relations that says we are under obligation to those we’ve hurt,” says Lerner Maclay. Without forgiveness, how do we create a positive relational energy that leads us towards harmony? I walk through this world believing in a theology which proclaims that this relational energy is the divine– and I can feel it, see it, experience it, and create it myself! That harmony is the divine forgiveness that allows us to continue to live our life in an authentic way, without the negativity of our bad behavior dragging us down and creating discord. And so, I add the above line because I know that accountability and forgiveness need to go both ways.