A Meditation on Forgiveness

Prison_Sophias_Pockets

Today’s post takes wisdom beyond walls from a metaphor to a reality. Antonio Turner is incarcerated within the Pennsylvania prison system. In this post, Antonio shares his ideas on pain, forgiveness and ultimately, redemption. Antonio have his permission to post this via written letter from inside prison. 

By: Antonio Turner

Quietly I calm my breathing. I relax, struggling to delve my mind into the most intrinsic core of my being. On a trek to forgive my mother remains the unconquerable hurdle on this journey. Why is it so difficult?

Although I have forgiven her from a cognitive standpoint, her rejection still lingers forming a cesspool in my mind: inside an already toxic and overflowing subconscious. Trying to contain the unrestrained resentment bubbling to the surface makes it hard to steady my mind on the difficult task ahead. The forgiveness process, for me, has not been a nourishing act from the heart. Yet since this betrayal and abandonment continue to be a taunting fact of my life, groveling about the matter will get me absolutely nothing!

So today as I ponder my life during a spell of meditation, the hold this unconquerable hurtle has on my heart is becoming a cancer. I sit paralyzed with fear – in my late forties – tormented by these feelings which have a direct effect on other women in my life.

As I secretly detest my mother for the immeasurable mental, physical and emotional pain she inflicted, my body tenses. I call God into my meditative space for help – to relax, to comfort and to guide.

I pray the combination of God and opening up my heart to Him will release the hurt carried every day. I so desire the fetters which have kept my mind in chains for the better part of three decades to be loosened – to release their grip on me. Since I was a little boy, I’ve prayed for this. Maybe I’m a dreamer, thinking, hoping this can happen.

            Blue stars, a gleam of hope

            Galaxies of complicated thought.

            Spheres of emotional entanglement

            A calloused heart full of rings and knots.

On bended knees, if I were only able to open my heart wide enough – seeking a depth of understanding more powerful than sight, I pray. I ask God to give me a comforting lens to examine my bitterness.

Maybe through the lens of forgiveness, I could’ve seen how she only acted out of her own pain – being a victim of domestic violence herself. She was an innocent floundering in her own torrent of pain. My meditation moves towards removing my selfishness, yet was it unreasonable for a child to want to be wrapped in the love of his mother? I don’t know. I’m just a dreamer.

 

My imagination has a tendency to run away from me. Through the prism of compassion can my prayers cause me to see my mother trying her very best? How can you shower affection when you are dealing with your own deep wounds, ones skewered and damaged by love itself?

By the grace of God, I’m now able to recognize her rejection actually had nothing to do with me. Her own woundedness prevented her from being able to love herself. With that emptiness piercing her soul, how could she truly love her own child?

Within my prayers, I ask, “How can I detest someone with so much visceral pain? With no self-love, wasn’t it impossible for her to love me?” I craved that love so much, which is why I pray for forgiveness now.

Guided by a beacon of light from my heavenly Father, I sit creating a sculpture with my words. I’m the one who needs to beg for forgiveness. As I fix my gaze on a starless sky – witnessing the clouds finally freeing the moon – suddenly the gates of my heart spring open. Could this be the first step to free my own hurt permanently?

As I end my prayer, I realize every present moment is an opportunity for a new beginning. And through the trials of suffering, the soul learns wisdom and compassion. My time in meditation has taught me it is possible to attain a newfound freedom from the realm of resentment. I don’t want to end this prayer, but know only through God can I release my mother from what she did to me. God provides a new forgiveness process much greater than my pain.

 

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Holding on to Safety

Today’s post is our last post on Safety, and comes from a regular contributor Esraa Mohamed. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries. Today Esraa ponders upon memories and friendships and whether holding on tightly to them, or letting them go make us feel safe.
Generally, I can’t really put down the things that make me feel safe, but I could rather elaborate on the things that give me hard time feeling secure. The 10-year-old me found safety in the materialistic existence of things and people. As a child, I never feared darkness or sleeping alone in my room. But I can vividly recall when my mum came to sleep over and how I used to embrace her belly with my little arm, checking every now and then on her breath in and out. It was as if death wouldn’t dare clench its fist through the dark while my arm is around her. As I grew older, I came to terms with the idea of death and it doesn’t freak me out anymore when people disappear in a blink.

A couple of months ago, I met a woman, a very dear soul to my heart at the hospital. We had been having physical therapy sessions twice a day for three months now, so I’m profoundly attached to her. And one day while telling her ‘good morning’, she shocked me with the question “Who are you?”. I couldn’t grasp it instantly and it took me quite some time to figure out what was going on. My eyes squinted with tears, thinking how could she possibly forget me? How things went blank out of the blue and later on I learned that she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Being the person who holds tightly on everything, taking photographs everywhere I go, writing diaries to archive each moment. This was total insecurity for me. How could one possibly live without memories? Who are we without memories after all?

Taking things for granted was the typical me, until one day I woke up to my passed away friend as blurred pixels. I sat at the edge of the bed trying to remember the way she looked like, trying to cling to any memory, any moment but I couldn’t. I squeezed my eyes, pressing hardly on my eyelids, trying to reconnect to anything but in vain. It was all gone and I was blank. I instantly rushed to the first piece of paper on my desk and wrote “2010: morning, feeling blank.” And since then, I’ve been obsessed with archiving every moment, every feeling. 

Losing a friend that I had taken for granted left a hole inside my soul and thus friendships became on top of the things that make me feel either secure or insecure and recently I came to the conclusion that there are two types of friends: those whom you blindly trust their leave. You feel safe because you know by heart that no matter how much life would shred you apart; you’d return back to the same point life drifted you together, smoothly as it has been before. You trust them with your place in their life, knowing that they can’t replace you by any other, so you don’t seek creating common grounds, asking about them daily and sticking to them much. Yet, the other type of friends scares the hell out of me. They give you a hard time by trusting everything. How could you possibly get more attached while their existence is a mirage? What if the common grounds came to a dead end? This love is consuming and reckless.  

For me a best friend is not necessarily the one we keep in touch with or the one who’s updated by our life second by second, but he can be the one we seldom meet yet when we meet we feel no blocks between us. A best friend is the far yet so close one.

Despite all that, I felt that there could be safety in Alzheimer’s from another perspective. I started to wonder why am I holding way too much? There is safety in oblivion, in letting go, in the non-lingering momentary things, living each day with no traumatic past, in being a neutron. And now I’m just trying to find safety by letting go of the things that scare me.

Practicing Forgiveness

Today’s post comes from our regular contributor David Etim, who is writing from Lagos, Nigeria. Today he shares the wisdom he has gained from practicing forgiveness.

Sun, Forgive

For me, lack of forgiveness is a spiritual virus, a monster that can destroyed us spiritually.I have also learned from my journey of faith that the more I practice forgiveness the more easier it has become for me. My practice of forgiveness is based in biblical scripture. The Bible often counsels against this lack of forgiveness.

Watch out that no bitterness take root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble hurting many in their spiritual lives –Hebrews 12:15

Furthermore, for me, the Bible’s counsel regarding lack of forgiveness is as relevant today as when it was written.

God’s Word says:

 Try to show as much compassion as Your Father does–Luke 6:36

and

Your attitude should be the kind that was shown by Jesus Christ–Philippians 2:5

It is true that some out of envy and jealousy do petty things that hurt me, but I have decided how to respond to those hurts: I will do all I can to make the person happy by showing love.

For me, forgiveness is a biblical command and it is always worth it to stand on my conviction without compromise. What happens to me is not nearly as important as what happens in me.

Yom Kippur, Forgiveness, and Race

Today’s guest post comes from Sarah Barasch-Hagans who is a queer Jewish woman from St. Louis and a third year rabbi-in-training at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Sarah is also the founder of the Fargesn Media Project and one of the founders of the acclaimed Black Lives Matter Haggadah. Her post shares her perspective on Yom Kippur. It also sheds light on the relationships between atonement and forgiveness as well as looking at how race affects those concepts. You can find more of Sarah’s writings on her blog.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish “Day of Atonement” of fasting and soul searching that seems to come every autumn exactly when we need it. This past week, after a year in which I engaged intensely in challenging accepted ideologies around race and class and power that Ferguson had highlighted in my hometown of St. Louis, Yom Kippur again came right on time. This year, I finally realized how truly countercultural in America is the Jewish approach is to apologizing and forgiving.

American society tends to make apologizing optional for the powerful yet demands forgiveness from the powerless. We have never offered reparations for slavery yet we tout as exemplary the Black families in South Carolina who have forgiven Dylann Roof for mass murdering their relatives while they prayed in church–even though he has expressed no remorse for his evil actions. On the heels of this news, set amidst this year of the rebirth of the Black Civil Rights Movement, it has felt especially important to me clarify the theology of forgiveness in Judaism.

In Judaism, we are not required to forgive those that wrong us. Rather, responsibility rests with the one who has done wrong and is required to atone. Even if we are not forgiven the first time we apologize, we must still attempt to fulfill the commandment by offering atonement three times with sincerity. Especially in cases where we may have sinned repeatedly, demonstrating sincerity arguably requires that we perform actions to show we are on a path to truly changing the behavior we are apologizing for. Only then, only after we have sincerely attempted atonement with the person three times, are we are said to have atoned properly before God.

This theology has serious implications for dialogues on race in our country. I believe that Jewish theology is absolutely clear that the current role of White Americans–Jewish and non-Jewish–is to atone.

Judaism would not demand that individual Black Americans forgive White People or the institutions that uphold racism. If individual Black Americans find peace in forgiveness, that is their choice, but but that is not required. Jewish tradition does have much to say about short term restorative justice and and long term reconciliation and community building, but is a conversation for another day.

We must delay those conversations because they are too comforting. This is our time to avoid the impulse to deflect blame or to try to plan for the future. This moment, this exact season in the Jewish calendar, is when we atone without knowing whether we will ever reach a place of comfort.

This time is for difficult spiritual exercises by those of us who are implicated in sinful cycles. Each of us of all races and genders and class backgrounds and sexualities and ability levels must look honestly at ourselves and our place in oppression, interpersonal and communal, and seek teshuvah–usually translated as atonement but literally meaning “turning.” This is our time of turning towards a path of love and justice. This is our time to exercise faith in turning to a path we may not even be able to imagine. Because until we are absolutely honest about the path we are on, we will never be able to see, much less travel, along the path we seek.

Exploring Identity

We’re pleased to share another guest post by Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote When Rituals End and Desires, Sex, and Love. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries. Today, she shares with us a glimpse of her own black box; with all the things we dare not to dig up and explore. The struggle and reward of exploration in a thought-provoking post!

Perhaps curiosity is the best virtue of man

Generally I consider myself a courageous person. I hold pride in the curiosity to explore everything, to the extent that I recall committing suicide to explore death and delve into its mystery. We all have black boxes, in which we tend to keep the things we dare not to explore, and I’ve got plenty. With each and every box I open, I get to lose a piece of my identity, unleashing another imprint into me that happens to be either compelling or astonishing.
So far I’ve opened many boxes and with each time I had to explore things for the first time; things that clash with my old principles and that’s how I explored the change of principles. Nothing is absolute. As much as there is virtue in exploration, as much as it drives you to struggle, I wonder sometimes who I am between all these personalities I explore throughout the day.  Am I the sociable and outgoing or the aloof and introvert one? Am I the chatterbox or the cistern? I’ve previously believed that by exploring different skins, I would know my identity, but I was abandoned with an identity crisis.

Spiritually, I’ve always wondered whether I am a religious person or an ignorant person who’s convinced with the idea of ethical human beings! An infinite loop of questions persist its roots into my sub-consciousness, perplexing me even more. And that’s why on top of all things I want to explore and delve into the spiritual life. I long for exploring new rituals, prayers and customs. I want to be set free of any boundaries. And there tickles a question: what is the point of exploration if I have no guts to change my religion? Yes, it’s nourishing my soul, but still it’s driving me into an unbearable struggle. Though I am a Muslim, yet I haven’t really explored Islam.

It’s said “Not until you lose yourself that you find yourself.” This saying, in the past, used to piss me off but someone told me that by losing, we’re losing our foolish and immature selves, to finally reach to the core of our real self.

Thus, I have learned not to complain about the struggle and agony of exploration, but be grateful for its long-term imprints.

Exploring Immortality And Time

Today’s post comes from Matheus Yuhlung, a Christian blogger who is pursuing an M.A. in Philosophy and currently lives in New Delhi, India. Matheus’ post today reflects the same philosophical spirit as his post on inspiration, but this time Matheus explores the concepts of immortality and time. This is a post that will make you think, and urges us all to explore these concepts on our own journeys.
Time, Philosophy, India, Prague, Travel, InterfaithIn the morning I was reading George H Morrison’s sermon entitled The Springs of Endurance where he quoted St. Augustine as saying: God is patient, because He is eternal; and it set me off thinking, can that be the same for us human beings as well? So I went off exploring the idea.
Things standing shall fall, but the moving ever shall stay.–Basavanna
 
This quote from an ancient Indian poet,  offers a contemplation on the temple of God as a state of being rather than a thing built with bricks and stones. These lines are the concluding verses of a poem where he is singing of how his soul is going to live forever (housing his God in the depth of his heart) while the temples that are standing now shall fail in the test of time.
 
Though originally written to a fictitious and formless god call Siva, those two sentences from the poem quoted above reminded me of what Apostle Paul wrote: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
  
Once, we had a pastor visit us from the Bible Society of India; and though he was young, he looked old as he was extremely thin and had an impoverished figure. He spoke in a low tone, in broken English with a heavy rural accent, yet, it was such a blessing to hear him speak.
 
The breath that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils, he said as he waved his shaky, skinny hands back and forth from the pulpit as if he was trying to contain his uncontainable ardour for Christ, that breath, he said again, still runs through, and inside, you and me and that is what that makes us cry with an upward longingness.
 
I believe anxiety and impatience gets us only when we limit ourselves under the matrix of time and space. The fact that God is always on time (though it may not seem like it to us) is because God is eternal, and is outside of time. The old Indian philosophers were very much aware that their souls were eternal, so much so that Sankara ended up saying: Brahm satyam jagat mithya – which can be loosely translated as: “Only Brahm is real and everything else is an illusion.”
 
For them ‘Brahm’ was an eternal-world soul, while ‘jagat’ meant the world. They believed the latter to be a complete illusion, a consequence of human ignorance. Hence, they ignored its existence in complete totality. Interesting, isn’t it?
 
Truly speaking though, time is real. This world is real and so is eternity. I sometimes like to think our bodies became mortal (and so did time and space) only when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit. If that is true, we’re living simultaneously both in eternity and in time, only separated by a thin delay of mortality.
 
Anyhow, if we’re immortal beings, eternal,  shouldn’t we be patient with our lives as well, in the same way God is patient with us? Should we seek to believe and live out our faith and let God take care of the rest?
 
This whole exploration, these deep concepts are complicated, but I love it how Hermann Hesse puts it in his book Siddhartha, writing:
 
But the world itself, being in and around us, is never one-sided. Never is a man … wholly Sansara or wholly Nirvana; … This only seems so because we suffer the illusion that time is something real. Time is not real, Govinda. I have realized this repeatedly. And if time is not real, then the dividing line that seems to lie between this world and eternity … is also an illusion.

The Blessings of Memories

We’re pleased to share another guest post from Aya Nejim, who previously wrote on The Courage to Start Over. Aya is a young English teacher, living between Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Cairo, Egypt. Today, Aya shares with us the blessing of the memories we hold dear to our hearts; the pictures we flip through when we’re nostalgic, the letters and cards we never get tired of reading, all the gifts and little trinkets, which are a reminder that nothing is ever lost forever, and that also nothing ever remains the same.

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No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories. – Haruki Murakami

We often forget the beauty of memories, their value. Memories have become – for most of us – a source of pain, grief and loneliness, reminding us only of what we lack, what we have lost. I believe that memories are a gift, a blessing that we need to thank God for daily. Their beauty lies in the mere fact that in a way we get to see several versions of ourselves; the person we once were and the person we have become. It is like tiny little founding pieces of how we are today.

I think of memories as spirits that transform into energy which our bodies encompass; the good ones give us joy and hope, while the bad ones transform us from pained, sad and lonely people to people filled with knowledge and wisdom. Even the people we lose, we keep their memories in our hearts and by doing so we carry a part of them within our soul. I like to believe that the pain goes away and that all that is left is simply a piece of ourselves in a different world with different people.

At times of despair, I often wished to lose everything; who I am, who I was, but then I realized that if I did, I would have never become the person I am now. Looking back at my memories, I saw how much I have come through and how different I had become. All the different versions of myself; the strong, the caring, the broken, the intellect, it reminded me that the journey still continues and nothing ever remains the same, not the sorrow, not the pain and not even me.

I am grateful for my memories because they give me hope and faith and fill me with warmth, knowing that even in my darkest days, another version of me has survived before and shaped the person I am now.

The Blessing of Living

We’re pleased to share another guest post from Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote posts on rituals and desires. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries.Today, she shares with us her own reflections about blessings; a blessing we all take for granted: simply being alive and healthy, breathing in and out.

Generally, I consider myself way too blessed, but sometimes life makes me too busy and I give a blind eye to all the blessings I have. Sometimes it takes loosing my breath to make me aware again.Cloud, Breath, Interfaith

Seven months ago, I had an allergy that took my lungs to the edge of a cliff. I felt death vividly inhabiting my ribs. And I swear I could sense my pleura gluing together. As I was faintly slipping to unconsciousness, I wanted to pick up my phone and tell somebody that I was dying. I wanted for once to tell somebody “Hey I am not okay, I need your help”.

I also wanted to hold my pen and scribble like a note of gratitude for the blessings I have taken for granted; my family, my friends, my health, even for the blessings I didn’t have.

My life flashed in front of my eyes, teasing me with the uncountable things I have taken for granted. And all what I wanted back then was one last chance to say thanks for all what I had. But my lungs brutally attacked for one last time, leaping the tottering guts out of my soul and I became too fragile to fight any longer.

My life dwindled amidst the agony of this night, so I sucked my nose into the cushion and cried God for mercy, for death, but even death was the tranquility that my situation couldn’t afford. I lost consciousness without any idea how did my lungs make it through the night.

I woke up to the morning breeze grateful to nothing more than being alive. I knew that I have left my lungs at the battlefield with all faith that they would make it for another battle yet to come. And I was really grateful for every little sip of sluggish breath.

Breath by breath, I realized that one of the biggest blessings that many of us, including myself, fail to cherish is simply the blessing of being alive. To live, to breath, even when it is hard, is truly a blessing.

Many Sources of Inspiration

Today’s post comes from our regular contributor David Etim, who is writing from Lagos, Nigeria. He shares with us the many ways he finds inspiration on his spiritual journey. His wisdom comes from a deeply Christian perspective, and also holds value for us all. It is also a beautiful transition from our theme of inspiration to next month’s theme of blessings.

Wisdom, Interfaith, Candles

Progress gives inspiration. And inspiration? That is what allows me to make my way towards greatness.

I have found inspiration in looking at what Gloria Copeland says,

Even if it seems costly at the time, always do what God puts in your heart to  do. Your whole future may depend on it.

I found inspiration too in what is written in the Bible. Hebrews 10:35 says,

Do not lose your courage, then, because it brings with it a great reward.

And in my own life’s progress I have found inspiration. On my birthday last month, I was given a number of gifts including  an additional job and  a self-contain apartment in a parsonage. These were great progress in my life and gifts from God.
God has used this providential turn of events to teach me to know God better, to become more obedient to God and to give me inspiration combined with steadfast persistence.

Finally, I find inspiration in the people God has sent to my life. God will always bring the right people, at the right time into my life, and their steady love for God and humanity are a constant inspiration to me.But there is more. Contact without inspiration is a waste and inspiration without improvement is a great waste as well. Take for instance, ever since I came in contact with Searching Sophia’s Pockets, there have been a tremendous improvement on my writing skills. This work inspires me too.

Inspiration is the key to aspiration. Inspiration averts expiration. Inspiration comes little by little developing my capacity and moving me to the next level.  I enjoy this supernatural ride of divine inspiration, which enables me support my projects with the spirit.

Please celebrate the many sources of inspiration with me, and celebrate their source.
God is awesome! God is wonderful! God is All-Inspiring!

Inspiration as Communion, Combustion, and Co-existance

Today’s inspiring post on inspiration and connection comes from Matheus Yuhlung. Matheus is a Christian blogger who is pursuing an M.A. in Philosophy and currently lives in New Delhi, India. This beautiful post in is one part theory and one part poetry, and all parts wisdom. 

Fireworks, Interfaith, Celebration, Inspiration

It is often said that the communion between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit was so spectacularly un-containable that they had to create men to join in their blissful co-existence. Though, there really are no theological grounds or scriptural references to support such sayings; it still never fails to fascinate me.

As a Christian, my greatest source of inspirations has always been the Bible; which in turn is said to be inspired by God himself. And yet, I can’t help but be inspired by things that are not based on scriptures too, like the one I mentioned above.

The way I see it, the act of being inspired and inspiring others is both a conscious and a subconscious act. It’s like a need-based dependency, where we are obligated to take a chunk out of another being’s soul or to give ours to them, to motivate each other in our spiritual sojourning.

For this, we hand pick some sources and curate it with utter care and imbibe the inspirations we cultivate from them in our lives. While, there are some sources through which inspirations just grow in our souls when we come in contact with them, say: culture, people, education, art et cetera.

But as much as inspirations can act as a metaphysical adhesive that glues us together for good, it can also work in the opposite direction as well; and so Rabindranath Tagore wrote:

My song has put off her adornments. She has no pride of dress and decoration. Ornaments would mar our union; they would come between thee and me; their jingling would drown thy whispers.

Ornaments of my soul i.e. ego and its siblings called pride and vanity would certainly mar our union and this is one thing that I’m most uninspired to do.

But, if life is a spontaneous combustion of a great blue flame, the act of being inspired and inspiring others, I believe, becomes the intricate entwining of our souls that forms the very basic elements of hydrogen and oxygen that burns this great blue flame of our spiritual co-existence. And if in such a flame, I’m by the very nature of my being obliged to burn; I’ll put my best effort, to try to burn with the finest particles of my soul.

For more from Matheus find him on twitter:  @matheusyuhlung