WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN

The legend goes that the 19th-century Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) made a clay model for a statue of Christ the King, arms outstretched, raised high in gesturing command, his head held high in triumph.

He left the soft and moist clay figure to harden and and in the morning when he entered the studio to finish his work, he couldn’t believe what he saw. The weight of the soft clay was too much for the inner structure and instead of  a head held high, it had bent downwards, and the arms originally raised in triumph had sagged and fallen low.

Initially Thorvaldsen was deeply disappointed, even disturbed, but when he looked again he saw that the statue with open arms, now expressed something deeper than kingly triumph and victory; it expressed welcome and forgiveness.

Note: The original statue of the “Christus” can be seen at the Vor Frue Kirke (Our Lady’s Church), the National (Lutheran) Cathedral of Denmark

Source: Unknown. Retold as I remember hearing it.

CONSIDER THIS

How big is your circle of compassion? How wide is your embrace?

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

“Outwitted” in Edwin Markham, The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems (1913)

MAGIC EYES

In the village of Faken in innermost Friesland there lived a long thin baker named Fouke, a righteous man, with a long thin chin and a long thin nose. Fouke was so upright that he seemed to spray righteousness from his thin lips over everyone who came near him; so the people of Faken preferred to stay away.

Fouke’s wife, Hilda, was short and round, her arms were round, her bosom was round, her rump was round. Hilda did not keep people at bay with righteousness; her soft roundness seemed to invite them instead to come close to her in order to share the warm cheer of her open heart. Hilda respected her righteous husband, and loved him too, as much as he allowed her; but her heart ached for something more from him than his worthy righteousness.

And there, in the bed of her need, lay the seed of sadness.

One morning, having worked since dawn to knead his dough for the ovens, Fouke came home and found a stranger in his bedroom lying on Hilda’s round bosom.

Hilda’s adultery soon became the talk of the tavern and the scandal of the Faken congregation. Everyone assumed that Fouke would cast Hilda out of his house, so righteous was he. But he surprised everyone by keeping Hilda as his wife, saying he forgave her as the Good Book said he should.

In his heart of hearts, however, Fouke could not forgive Hilda for bringing shame to his name. Whenever he thought about her, his feelings toward her were angry and hard; he despised her as if she were a common whore. When it came right down to it, he hated her for betraying him after he had been so good and so faithful a husband to her.

He only pretended to forgive Hilda so that he could punish her with his righteous mercy.

But Fouke’s fakery did not sit well in heaven.

So each time that Fouke would feel his secret hatred toward Hilda, an angel came to him and dropped a small pebble, hardly the size of a shirt button, into Fouke’s heart. Each time a pebble dropped, Fouke would feel a stab of pain like the pain he felt the moment he came on Hilda feeding her hungry heart from a stranger’s larder.

Thus he hated her the more; his hate brought him pain and his pain made him hate.

The pebbles multiplied. And Fouke’s heart grew very heavy with the weight of them, so heavy that the top half of his body bent forward so far that he had to strain his neck upward in order to see straight ahead. Weary with hurt, Fouke began to wish he were dead.

The angel who dropped the pebbles into his heart came to Fouke one night and told him how he could be healed of his hurt.

There was one remedy, he said, only one, for the hurt of a wounded heart. Fouke would need the miracle of the magic eyes. He would need eyes that could look back to the beginning of his hurt and see his Hilda, not as a wife who betrayed him, but as a weak woman who needed him. Only a new way of looking at things through the magic eyes could heal the hurt flowing from the wounds of yesterday.

Fouke protested. “Nothing can change the past,” he said. “Hilda is guilty, a fact that not even an angel can change.”

“Yes, poor hurting man, you are right,” the angel said. “You cannot change the past, you can only heal the hurt that comes to you from the past. And you can heal it only with the vision of the magic eyes.”

“And how can I get your magic eyes?” pouted Fouke.

“Only ask, desiring as you ask, and they will be given you. And each time you see Hilda through your new eyes, one pebble will be lifted from your aching heart.”

Fouke could not ask at once, for he had grown to love his hatred. But the pain of his heart finally drove him to want and to ask for the magic eyes that the angel had promised. So he asked. And the angel gave.

Soon Hilda began to change in front of Fouke’s eyes, wonderfully and mysteriously. He began to see her as a needy woman who loved him instead of a wicked woman who betrayed him.

The angel kept his promise; he lifted the pebbles from Fouke’s heart, one by one, though it took a long time to take them all away. Fouke gradually felt his heart grow lighter; he began to walk straight again, and somehow his nose and his chin seemed less thin and sharp than before. He invited Hilda to come into his heart again, and she came, and together they began again a journey into their second season of humble joy.

Source |  Lewis SmedesForgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve

PONDER AND CONSIDER

As  Lewis Smedes put it, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” 

 

THE PARABLE OF THE POMEGRANATE SEED

 

Once upon a time, a poor man was caught stealing and was ordered to be hanged by the king. On the way to the gallows he said to the governor, who was in charge of carrying out the execution, that he knew a wonderful secret, and that it would be a pity to allow the secret die with him. He also said that he would like to disclose the secret in front of the king. The poor man told the governor, further, that the secret would allow someone to bury the seed of a pomegranate in the ground and then make it grow and bear fruit overnight. Well the governor thought this sounded wonderful so the thief was brought before the king and all of the king’s high officers of state. Standing before these powerful men, the poor man dug a hole in the ground and said, “Here’s the secret: this seed must only be put in the ground by a person who has never stolen or taken anything which did not belong to him. I being a thief cannot do it.” 

So the thief turned to the prime minister who, frightened, said that in his younger days he had retained something that did not belong to him. Next the thief turned to the treasurer who said that while dealing with such large sums of money, he might have at one point or another entered too much or too little. Finally the thief turned to the king, who embarrassingly admitted to keeping a necklace of his father’s with out his permission. Then the thief said, “You are all mighty and powerful men who lack no material comfort, and yet you cannot plant this seed, while I who have stolen a little because I was starving am to be hanged.” The king, pleased with the shrewdness of the thief, pardoned the man.

Source |  Based on a story from a book of collected works The Exempla of the Rabbis written by various rabbis dating back to the Middle Ages. Stories like this one about the shrewd thief were popular in Jewish folklore.

 

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • We are all prone to making mistakes and wrong decisions.  The more aware we are of our own foibles the more tolerant, understanding and forgiving we will be of others.
  • Place yourself as an active participant in the story.  Imagine yourself the thief, the governor, the prime minister, the treasurer or the King.  Where do you feel at home and where do you feel uncomfortable?  Why?

PACO, ALL IS FORGIVEN

No one could really say why he ran away. Or perhaps he didn’t, but was kicked out of his home by his father for something foolish that he said or did. Either way, Paco found himself wandering the streets of Madrid, Spain with hopes of entering into a profession that would most likely get him killed – bullfighting. Those who train under a mentor have a good chance of surviving this profession, but Paco’s memory of his mistakes and guilt over what happened blindly drove him to this one way street to suicide.

But that was the last thing his father wanted, which is why he tried something desperate which he desperately hoped would work. There was little to no chance that he would be able to find Paco by wandering the streets of Madrid , so instead he put an advertisement in the local newspaper El Liberal. The advertisement read,

“Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.”

Paco is such a common name in Spain that when the father went to the Hotel Montana the next day at noon there were 800 young men named Paco waiting for their fathers…and waiting for the forgiveness they never thought was possible!

From the short story The Capital of the World by Ernest Hemingway
in The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

PONDER

  • Imagine your name is Paco too. Would you muster enough courage and show up at the Hotel Montana?
  • What strikes you about this story? How have you offered forgiveness to others? How has forgiveness been offered to you?
  • What does this story say about humanity’s desire for forgiveness?
  • How is forgiveness understood in this story? Is it an act of grace—or something else?
  • Do you think Paco’s father had forgotten about Paco’s misdeeds? Does it even matter?

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