No Condemnation: The Open-Hearted Leap

When we forgive, “we allow ourselves to be gifted

by a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft.”

– David Whyte, Consolations

If you’ve been following the past few weeks of posts here, you may remember that I began the subject of forgiveness by telling the story of a strange cat that found its way into my house and how, even with an obvious open window beside it, had a hard time finding its way out. When it did find its escape route, it leaped and fairly flew across the roof and down to the freedom of the ground below. Sometimes we’re a lot like that cat, trying to find a way out of anger or resentment or bitterness, not paying attention to the escape route that’s right before our eyes.

There is an open-eyed, open-hearted leap that takes us out the window and into spacious freedom beyond: non-condemnation. Forgiveness is part of it, but while forgiveness is focused and specific, non-condemnation is the broad attitude, the atmosphere of grace that forgiveness lives in. It’s the “permanent attitude” that Dr. Martin Luther King pointed to in last week’s quote. In the atmosphere – the permanent attitude – of non-condemnation, any time and every time we fall, we are free to get up and try again, uncondemned.

That doesn’t mean there are no consequences, whether natural or imposed by civil law. But it does means that no weight of guilt or shame keeps us down. That’s the beauty of forgiveness. We get another chance. When we give that freedom to ourselves, we give it to others. That’s the path along which Jesus leads us: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Matthew 6:9).

The apostle Paul wrote, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In other words, for those of us who follow Jesus’s teachings, condemnation is not even in our vocabulary. There is no condemnation. Not for me, not for anyone. Because we live in an age of grace. We walk the way of love.

There’s an old-fashioned word worth recovering here: redemption. A translation of the basic ancient Greek word lyo, redemption means loosen, release, liberate, set free. Redemption as part of forgiveness

         – takes what’s dead and makes it live again

– takes what’s old and makes it new

– discovers and recovers what’s been lost

– restores what’s been damaged

– heals what was broken

– makes whole what was fragmented

This is the path of Jesus, but it’s not exclusively a Christian path. All over the world redemption happens, because all over the world, love happens. And, as I said previously, wherever we find love, we find God.

So, reversing the syllables in forgive, the question is, what am I willing to give for liberation from the link that chains me to this offense and this offender? What will I give for release from the curdled stomach and tight chest of resentment? What will I give for freedom from the joy-killing time suck of bitterness?

Literally, what will I give for this freedom? I give up the right to revenge. I give up my demands to have life balance in the way I want it to. I give up the attention and empathy I might get as a victim. I give up the habit of using my wounds as an excuse for doing this or not doing that, for being this and not being that. I give up my pride in being so humble. I give up an illusion in exchange for reality. I give up an old goal for a new one. I give up blind beliefs for an open-eyed faith.

What I gain is a fresh vision. Self-respect. A release of tension. A lighter step going forward. A smile. A deep breath. Maybe even a good night’s sleep. What I gain is personal peace, which can spread beyond me to the world.

Sharon Salzberg, who teaches mindfulness meditation, suggests that we make a habit of breathing deeply while embodying this thought: “May I be safe, may I be well, may I be happy, may I be at ease.” It’s a way to be kind to ourselves, to love and encourage ourselves. I go a bit further. When I’m filled with that thought toward myself, I give it a couple of tweaks and turn it toward others as a blessing: “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be wise, may you be at ease.” Maybe that’s an expression of love. Maybe that is forgiveness.

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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy