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At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different. When you receive a compliment or win an award, you experience the joy of not being the same as others. You are faster, smarter, more beautiful, and it is that difference that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveler.
This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.
Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently than the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.
What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.
We prescribe for one another remedies that will bring us peace of mind, and we are still devoured by anxiety. We evolve plans for disarmament and for the peace of nations, and our plans only change the manner and method of aggression. The rich have everything they want except happiness, and the poor are sacrificed to the unhappiness of the rich. Dictatorships use their secret police to crush millions under an intolerable burden of lies, injustice and tyranny, and those who still live in democracies have forgotten how to make good use of their liberty. For liberty is a thing of the spirit, and we are no longer able to live for anything but our bodies. How can we find peace, true peace, if we forget that we are not machines for making and spending money, but spiritual beings, sons and daughters of the most high God?
From: Thomas Merton. The Monastic Journey. Patrick Hart, editor. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1978: 62.
Holman’s House, a new chapbook by poet Darrell B. Grayson, can now be read online at The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature. Presented by editors, Valerie MacEwan and myself, this chapbook is the first publication of the Second Edition of the Mule. There’s lots more to come. Other chapbooks and poems will be online in late April.
A special thanks to Esther Brown for her help with the preparation of the manuscript. Read this extraordinary poet.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over.
Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories.
We went to North Platte to watch trains.
Up before dawn, we found them
at Sutherland, in the park by the tracks.
And when the sun came up, we saw—too—
the fields, where hundreds of cows stood,
stinking together. We took
photos from the bridge that safely took
schoolchildren over the mainlines.
The sky was a wash, but it didn’t really rain.
An engine idled—ditch lights glowing—
as dawn brightened near a convenience store,
where Luke the conductor was gone for coffee.
Then talking to Bill,
he said his inter-modal had left the night before
from Cheyenne: UP 5117—
bottle-necked now with the other trains:
trains carrying cars, oil, the ones
from the Powder River Basin with their weighty
loads of low-sulfur coal—waiting,
ten miles west of North Platte, for orders to move.
Then, on—both we and the trains—
to the famous Bailey Yard,
eight miles in length, and cold as north wind could
manage in October, as we stood on the Visitor’s Center
platform. Below us were more cows.
And “Oh!” said my urban nose, “Where’s the bathroom?”
I said it, too. (Check the tape). Evergreens
swayed with the wind, twittered with gathering birds.
UP’s yard engines pushed railroad cars—
squealing and screeching—down from the hump,
sorting by destination—both the loaded and the empty—
while 5117 and other road engines refueled
at the Diesel Shop, off to our right.
first published in The Centrifugal Eye
We are all wounded people. Who wounds us? Often those whom we love and those who love us. When we feel rejected, abandoned, abused, manipulated, or violated, it is mostly by people very close to us: our parents, our friends, our spouses, our lovers, our children, our neighbors, our teachers, our pastors. Those who love us wound us too. That’s the tragedy of our lives. This is what makes forgiveness from the heart so difficult. It is precisely our hearts that are wounded. We cry out, “You, who I expected to be there for me, you have abandoned me. How can I ever forgive you for that?”
Forgiveness often seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. The God who lives within us will give us the grace to go beyond our wounded selves and say, “In the Name of God you are forgiven.” Let’s pray for that grace.
How can we forgive those who do not want to be forgiven? Our deepest desire is that the forgiveness we offer will be received. This mutuality between giving and receiving is what creates peace and harmony. But if our condition for giving forgiveness is that it will be received, we seldom will forgive! Forgiving the other is first and foremost an inner movement. It is an act that removes anger, bitterness, and the desire for revenge from our hearts and helps us to reclaim our human dignity. We cannot force those we want to forgive into accepting our forgiveness. They might not be able or willing do so. They may not even know or feel that they have wounded us.
The only people we can really change are ourselves. Forgiving others is first and foremost healing our own hearts.
At five o’clock we left the gift shop,
climbed to the Abbey’s balcony.
The antiphon was about to start.
The religious came, entered,
slowly—from all directions—sending
chanted psalms through colored panes.
Wild lilacs climbed the marble walls.
And smoke, then incense, filled the air.
Soft rays from the setting sun,
pinks and shades of
drenched our cool, jacketed shoulders.
The colors stroked us, loved us.
And we loved softly back. Why
we loved even the shadows in Conyers,
where the Angel of the Hour
had simply come, dressed in blue.
Cloistered monks had broken silence,
and the poems
and the songs and the prayers
were homing pigeons
first published in ShoeBox Diaries
To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.