Who can forgive, feels life more intense
is 46, hails from Northern Germany, holds a doctorate in theology, was a high school clergyman in Münschen, and joined the Salvatorian Order nearly ten years ago. She lives with other nuns in a shared flat in Vienna. There she leads an educational initiative for young people, with pilgrimages and silent weeks (www.impulsleben.at)© Cathrine Stukhard
We know how great our yearning for a new beginning is and how insurmountable the obstacles are. This contradiction seems to be a kind of basic human problem of the present, described in a sated way, and possibly insoluble in the end. But sometimes a book about an old subject appears that suddenly makes things look new.
The nun Melanie Wolfers has written a book on "The Power of Forgiveness" with the subtitle "How we overcome insults and come to life again" (207 pages, 14.99 euros, Herder). And as you read, you realize that your passionate plea for forgiveness is basically a guide to a new beginning. With many side paths, also in a very lifelike spirituality. What a challenge, if you think you have done the topic of faith for yourself. Just as forgiveness is a challenge, if one prefers internally to revenge fantasies.
ChroniquesDuVasteMonde WOMAN: I can think of a few people who have treated me badly and hurt me. That annoys me now. Why should I forgive this person? You are not obliged to forgive. But it makes sense, because forgiveness is creative, creates something new and gives you freedom. Forgiving means to become freer and to be able to reshape one's own life and thereby gain more ease.
What is that freedom? On the one hand the freedom from the burden of adding, the dark feelings that keep you trapped. But also the freedom to pass on our suffering and our imprisonment in the offense to others. An embittered person can make life difficult for others. So I have to ask myself: How do I deal with suffering without causing harm and pain to others?
A question that is rarely asked. Well, that is often a relatively automatic reaction: there is a revenge impulse, and you want to pay it back to the other, for example by a cynical remark. You are trapped in a reaction pattern. And another point is: The freedom for what? What do I do for myself? What values and goals do I pursue? Forgiveness frees us to realize values and to do something meaningful and constructive from a greater depth.
We live in a social climate that does not exactly encourage you to deal with grievances and forgiveness. Yes. Appreciating: You are above things and not vulnerable. And if you're hurt, at least do not let it show you. But we pay a high price. Because when everything bounces off you can not be stroked gently. Those who live in armor can no longer be touched, can no longer feel compassion. He or she can no longer experience being loved or loving others. Those who invulnerable risk a brutal loneliness. For an elbow society, vulnerability is not worth it. But only if I know about my vulnerability and remain vulnerable, I am even able to relate. If someone is always cool, then he burns for nothing and no one. A poor life.
To what extent does the injustice we suffered from the new beginning hinder us? If I give someone something in the long run, then I wear it hard. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I think again of the person who has injured me, and engage in internal arguments, brushing my teeth, coffee, in the subway. And if you look sober, you realize: wow, that costs me a lot. Forgiveness frees one from being bound to the hurt and the past. And it liberates from the inner attachment to the person who has injured me and thus exercises a power over me that I do not want to give him.
This requires a concrete experience of annoyance: I know who has hurt me like. But we do tend to repress grievances so that we have only that vague feeling of having to somehow change our lives. Sometimes offenses are quite obvious, but yes, what you describe is a very typical and frequent experience. Pushing away disabilities can also be right for a while so that you can get ground under your feet again. But if this displacement becomes a permanent attitude, then it only causes the pain to migrate into the ground.
Do you have to research yourself to be forgiving and to be free for new things? How in such a kind of inner self-purification? I believe that it is always worthwhile to get out of everything and to look: What moves me now? What can I do, where are my limits, what is the story of my crises, who is important to me, what is important to me? Without such pausing we are really only externally controlled.
© Cathrine Stukhard
They write that forgiveness enables one to "follow one's own life-track". Are we following a defined track? No, the life track is created by walking step by step. Through your choices, you shape yourself in the course of your life. After an injury, however, the feeling can emerge: I'm just passing by. Something prevents me from following my own life trail, I do not live, I am lived. Because maybe the injury I suffered will not let me go. I am in conflict with my past.
They call this "hoping for a better past". Yes. And when I forgive, I stop hoping for a better past.
You say - and I find that especially in connection with relationship conflicts very interesting - that you do not need the other to forgive. Of course, it's good to talk in relationships because maybe there was just a misunderstanding. And of course it increases the willingness to forgive when someone sees me suffering and apologizes. But there is an essential difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is an interpersonal rekindling, forgiveness is a process within the soul. It is very helpful to be able to talk to the other, but forgiveness is something that happens in me.
Do you need some kind of spiritual foundation to really forgive? I'm a Christian, but regardless of that - I do not know anyone who happily pats on the back and says, "It's only thanks to me that I can truly forgive now with a sincere heart." Just where one is able to forgive fate, that person always experiences it as a gift that it has become possible to become freer. One is thankful for peace, for a new ease; or that wounds heal and you do not wake up with nightmares at night anymore.
But being able to forgive is an achievement that you develop yourself. And be it through therapy. Of course, forgiveness does not fall into your lap, but with all of your own efforts, you will also experience it as a gift. And for me this is the basic spiritual experience: I have not done this alone, but connected with a reality that is deeper, greater than my own self. Not everyone has to experience it that way, but as I said, I do not know anyone who says, "I owe it to my own self-optimization that I can forgive." That's why I think the question is very important: Does my world view give me any idea of how to deal with injuries and insults? Does it help me that I do not get sick internally in the long run and that I do not cause new suffering in others? This is a socially highly relevant issue, because it's about living together in a relationship, in the family, in the workplace and in society: how do we deal with the injustice and suffering we have suffered?
As someone who has not grown up in the Church and with the Christian religion, I find it very difficult to gain access to this kind of spirituality. In a way, can forgiveness be such a portal to faith? I think there is something wonderful to experience when there is a new morning after a long night; when wounds have healed and agonizing memories no longer haunt me and rob me of my sleep. Or if I can trust myself again to a human, although I thought I would never open myself again. There is gratitude - and gratitude is looking for an addressee, quite simply. (Laughs)
I think I'm just grateful for life at such moments. Yes exactly. Look in the Bible, there are many images used for God: It is said of God, he is life, he is the doctor, peace, heaven. And I think forgiveness is an important experience that makes me realize that I am getting well again. I am in the middle of life, and that is the same as: I am in the midst of God.
I understand what you mean, but as you put it that way, it sounds quite abstract again to me. I think one problem with our churches is that the word God sounds so abstract because it seems to be hanging up there somehow. Therefore one does not even get the idea, it could have a relation to the own reality of life. But how does divine reality manifest itself? In the experience of relationships, in the growth of peace and justice, of love. God is love, that's the nickname for God in the Bible, so to speak. So I do not need to seek God in any other places of pilgrimage, just open my eyes to life and what happens.
Faith is trust
And that is faith? I trust that it makes sense to open oneself to life: that is faith.Faith is nothing but trust. And I think that faith also encourages us to embark on the painful process of forgiveness because I can hope that I am not completely alone with my fear and my dark feelings. What often bothers us so much is the concern that I have to carry everything alone. There is a very beautiful poem by Hilde Domin, I can not do that by heart, but I love poems (declaimed): "Do not get tired, but shake hands with the miracle like a bird". And then it says: "Because the miracle happens because we can not live without the miracle". Faith is the power of hope: never tire of holding hands to life. So you can be healer. So that life can start anew. And one last point about your question about a spiritual foundation of forgiveness, or should I stop now?
No, not at all, I listen to you spellbound. What hurts especially at an insult? The violation of our self-esteem. Someone feels hurt when he or she is questioned or rejected as a person. (hesitates) I find it not so easy to describe it or to find pictures for it, but I think: Anyone who embarks on a spiritual path of experience opens up a dimension in which one can take deeper roots than, for example, the question: Will I be rejected or not? Am I successful or am I failing? For those who are spiritually rooted, recognition by others or success is not the deepest basis for self-esteem. And conversely, one is not completely knocked down by criticism or rejection.
But we are all always looking for this recognition. Yes, but who basically tells us: is it good that you exist? We can say that badly to ourselves, that is not so credible, but: This voice is in us. And that voice can be called divine spirit. Trusting in this voice frees me from having to earn my self-esteem or win from the recognition of others. Ultimately, freedom is rooted in this trust in God. The greatest freedom comes from saying and truly believing: I am I, and I am allowed to be, and it is good.
But religion is presented to you as a child not as a form of freedom, but as something you have to learn and what you can do right or wrong. Absolutely correct. I also find it really bad that the churches have failed to convey faith as a stimulus of liberty. But as a straitjacket, as a moral corset. That's very sad. And Jesus was a completely free man: with what independence he followed his trail! And Jesus was so free that he could even leave his life for others. Is there a greater freedom? Therefore, I believe that freedom in the last is always freedom from the fear for oneself. Because I believe that I am born.
At the beginning we talked about not living in a social climate that favors forgiveness. Because it is associated with weakness. Yes. It is a sign of strength.
That would mean we need a new definition of strength. One that goes beyond coolness and intransigence. Strength is where someone knows his gifts and limits well and has the courage to face his own reality. A reality that includes size, but also the feeling of being small and powerless. Strong for me is someone who has the ability to withstand this tension and to affirm oneself. Such a person has become freer or perhaps even completely free from anxiety about whether he succeeds or fails, whether he is criticized or praised. Whoever grows in this freedom will be able to live in a new depth of viable and fulfilling relationships.