The Gift of Forgiveness: God Gives in Imaginative Ways
By Marci Jezierski, OSP Member
Sunday, April 16, 2017
A handful of years ago, Karen and I sat together in one of our spiritual direction meetings. She listened gently as I shared the struggle within me, a years-long battle, the pain more intense than ever. I opened up to Karen a deeply buried, unspoken place of self-hatred, emotional self-injury filled with shame, blame and feelings of unworthiness, stemming from enduring years of abuse as a child. God was beginning to give me the courage, the voice and the safe spaces I needed to speak my “unspoken broken”. Hot tears stung my eyes as I told Karen that I begged and pleaded with God, again and again, to forgive me for my self-inflicted hurt and for holding on to a self-image that is “not of Him”. Karen held my hands, wet from wiping away alligator-sized tears, looked directly into my damp eyes, and asked with conviction, “What if God is saying to you, right now, there is nothing for Him to forgive?” I was completely flabbergasted at the certainty in her voice. Nothing to forgive? Absolutely nothing for Him to forgive? I couldn’t believe that, and Karen could see it in me. “Ok, let’s try something different”, Karen offered. God says, “There is nothing to forgive.” “What does that feel like in your body? What does that look like?” Karen prompts me to imagine. Quicker than I can form thoughts, the Holy Spirit fills my mind with an image of the beach. “The beach”, I say to Karen in a near-whisper. “Nothing to forgive looks like the beach.” We sit with this image. “
Where are you on the beach?” Karen is curious to know. I tell her I’m on the shore, my feet are deep in the warm sand and I’m watching the water as the waves roll in. I ache to be in the water, but I don’t know how deep it is, and I’m afraid the waves are too strong for me. “It’s ok for you to be on the sand…What does the sand say to you?” , she asks. “The sand says, ‘I am SAFE.’” “The sand says ‘You are safe.’”, Karen repeats and reminds me. “And what about the water? What does the water say to you?” “The water and the waves tell me, ‘I am CLEAN.’” “Yes, you are clean.” Karen echoes for me. I tell her that I long to be in the water, to have the waves wash over me again and again and again…for me to be clean, for me to be flooded with a visceral knowing of God’s Forgiveness. As our time together comes to a close, Karen encourages me to hold on to the image of the beach, reminding me that I don’t have to “do” anything to get to the beach. With God, I am already there.
I held on to the image of the beach, tighter than I’d ever held anything before. I longed to be in relationship with water…not the dip-your-fingers-into-the-holy-water kind, but the baptism-by-full-immersion kind of relationship. I emailed Karen and shared my longing for a tangible experience of the beach. “Hold on tight to that”, she typed back to me, “I have an idea about the beach. Let me check on it.” A short time later, Karen came back to me with an invitation. “I have a beach for you, we’ll go together. Let’s plan our next spiritual direction meeting at Gillson Beach in Wilmette.” I read and re-read Karen’s email invitation. My anticipation for meeting at the water was palpable.
A few weeks later, Karen and I arrived at the beach together, on an early September morning. It was just after Labor Day, and we had the beach to ourselves. We picked out a bench close to the water, I kicked off my shoes and rolled up my capris to rest at my knees. Sitting on that bench, I prayed – more like begged – for God to come near and to bring His healing. Karen sat down next to me, pulled me close and encouraged, “Go…do what the Holy Spirit moves you to do…I’ll be here watching and praying, you can come back to me anytime.”
I stood up from the bench and moved slowly through the sand. With every step, my feet sank into soft, cool sand – I knew and felt, “I am SAFE.” I held still at the shoreline, mesmerized by the expanse of the lake and the glorious waves cresting and crashing again and again and again. I’d forgotten the beauty in the waves of Lake Michigan! The waves were calling to me, in their rising and resting, bulging and breaking, inviting me ever close. As I readied myself to step into the water, I was certain that I needed an infinite number of waves to wash over me in order to “be clean”. I walked into the lake, until the water ebbed just above my knees. I crouched down, closed my eyes and touched the surface of the water; I felt its constant rhythm under my hands. I begged for the next wave to come in to me, and the next and the next and the next. As I moved deeper and deeper into the water, the waves came more quickly – big ones – washing over me again and again and again. Sweet relief flooded into me, body, spirit and soul, as the water fell upon me – knowing the waves would never cease in their coming! And then, as I caressed the rippling water in the quiet place, in the stillness between the waves, God spoke to my heart…“The first wave makes you CLEAN, all the rest are LOVE!”
Spiritual direction bears witness to the Holy Spirit moving within, between and among us. As Karen and I cooperated with the Spirit, God used our imagining around forgiveness, our idea and creativity towards an experience of water, and our time shared together at the lake…and brought forth a Gift that is wholly treasured, sacred and redemptive! An Easter experience, the Beach most certainly was and is and ever will be!
Bless me O Lord, for these Your Gifts which I have received, am receiving now, and I’m about to receive, from Your Bounty, through Christ our Lord. AMEN!