Greatness, Finale: The Triumph of Forgiveness

Like a diamond, the attribute of greatness has so many faces its definition remains elusive. Thus far I have traced greatness along the lines of tenacity. I could go on to look at heroes who cope with severe disabilities or who have scaled Everest and run ultras that are four times the distance of a marathon. But I bring this series home with what I consider the most herculean of feats, to reach into the depths of one’s spirit in the costly act of forgiveness.

When someone injures us; mind, body, or spirit, it incites demand for justice. Parent, friend, or stranger has inflicted pain and must requite the wrong with contrition, if not suffering. The question that remains is what happens to the debt that goes unremitted. Someone must pay that debt and where the perpetrator has no plans to, the victim always absorbs the cost in one of two ways: with anger or with grace that clears the debt from the offender’s account. The acrimony that weighs on the unforgiving heart becomes an emotional cancer that often manifests itself physically. The liver literally stores the poison of grief and resentment. Understandably, freeing others of their debt depollutes our spirit and body. But life isn’t a treatise. You can understand the harm nursing grievance means to your emotional and physical well-being but if you’ve been abused, abandoned, attacked, or lost a loved one to a senseless transgression, you’re going to want blood.

Why is forgiveness so hard? To pay evil with grace is hardly possible. I wish it were as doable, as conquerable, as daily hours of exercise. Indignation is the compelling logic of right and wrong, and speaks to our sense of entitlement. The anger also answers the feeling of helplessness with the delusion of strength.

Corrie Ten Boon with her sister and father endured unspeakable atrocities in a concentration camp for having hid Jews in occupied Holland. Corrie, the only one in her family to survive, went on to preach God’s forgiveness all over the world. Here is a part of her story:

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones..the huge room with its harsh overhead lights…the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand.

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there. But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’ And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

Since the end of the war I’d had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

I can just hear the cynicism about convicts alleging conversion. That is besides the point at the moment: it is excruciatingly difficult even for Christians. We assent to, oh embrace, the God who sacrificed the Innocent to acquit a guilty race. Jesus made amends through payment of punishment. Atonement. He took every stain of my being and the worst I will ever think or do, and removed them from me as far as East is from West in an act entirely unjust to God Himself. In this post, I offer a glimpse of a long, dark season in which I was incapacitated. I will appreciate your reading The Question of Human Suffering before you debate God with me, and do it under that post while not expecting me to solve age-old mysteries. I share how it was Relentless Goodness that stripped me of all proud claims. But the insistence on self returns. It is the beauty of undeserved kindness, not the threat of retribution, that lifts us onto the higher ground of humility and compassion. Deep in conversation with the theologian Ravi Zacharias on a train, a woman asked him what Christianity offers that other faiths don’t. “Forgiveness,” he answered, meeting contemplation.

Full, deep forgiveness is an achievement of consummate greatness, a triumph worthier than Olympic gold because we are not actualizing or fulfilling the self but denying it. The human heart is the bloodiest, fiercest of battlegrounds; the place of pardon where we most profoundly attain the nobility of our humanity. For, I would add, it images divine glory. To answer insensitivity, violence, or hate with love calls for a power greater than our flesh can marshal.

There are a lot of bloggers writing their pain away. Every one of us has had someone to forgive. There are many bitter Christians, and on my worst days you can easily count me among them. But the Cross offers the why and the how we can move toward grace, makes the transformation possible. For a widened perspective of how people try to heal from unjust wounds, I would like to hear especially from those who do not share my worldview. Where do you get the power to release him, her who did that to you? Do you feel you can even try? Under the smile are you heavy with dirt spit by tires that went screeching into the sunset? Or have you gotten up, refused to call yourself roadkill? Is coping enough for you? Are you walking, or running? Laden with burdens buried in pockets or are you free of them? If so, how?

How to Succeed as a Blogger – Lighting Dynamite, Part 2

Socializing
I just finished saying in Part One that before you connect with others, you have to know and be yourself. Moving on, we see that a purpose-driven blog won’t stand alone. Because it’s a blog, not a book. If you are putting in the time to draft posts that are four, six, eight paragraphs long and are counting on one or two hands the number of likes and comments coming in or haven’t seen a rise in readership, it’s probably a good idea to step out and socialize more with other bloggers. You can write, sing, preach, journal, cry, paint your heart out but if you’re not investing in other blogs, you’re not as likely to draw investors for yours. In the world of business, you need to offer a product that is unique and consumable, something people need and want to come back for. But even generic goods will earn sales if you put in the time. It’s a simple correlation between exposure and growth potential.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Connecting
More than the quantitative aspect of blogging, though, I would like to look at the qualitative. Your zeal will ring out, only to fall flat, if it doesn’t offer relevance or resonance. I repeat something I was impatient to throw out in Part 1. Ask yourself why anyone should read, let alone follow, you. I shouldn’t have to declare I’m a writer on this blog. You should be able to see and feel it. But let’s go a step further. So what if you do? Do I seriously imagine that thousands of people week in, week out will be as involved in my struggles, questions, poetry as I am? You ought to see something of your own story here – your past, your hopes, your convictions which grow sharper in your assent and dissent. Isn’t the finest literature or visual art a mirror of human experience? Why is this so? I borrow from the wisdom of a professor who said years back: we listen autobiographically. This gem of a truth is a whole other post but keeping to this discussion, it’s good to bear in mind that people are reading and processing what you offer from the reference point of their own story. Rather, this is what they want to do. Here’s a powerful example. I assumed it was the thought of divine sacrifice that brought Casey to tears over the sculpture of Mary holding her dead Son after the crucifixion in this post. Casey clarified that she was, in fact, “very moved by the poignant imagery of being held by a loving mother” because her own childhood experiences had left her beggared in this regard. We approach a relationship, whether with a friend or work of art, through the screen of our own story. This describes the wife, reader, consumer in me. But as an artist I blog by seeking to tap a part of life that we all participate in so you can relate to me in the most fundamental sense of the word relationship. In your own blogging, you can target a topic relevant in your niche. Or more broadly, keep up the writing, dance, artwork that touches the universal longing for knowledge or intrigue in what is fantastic, beautiful, and possible. You will find more on resonance in this post Why We Read. It is not a strict dictum of blogging to give viewers something they want or can identify with but it’s understandably the ideal. Something neat can also happen along the way. Once you establish a loyal readership that comes to trust you will deliver the goods (or at least die trying), it almost won’t matter what you offer. This, from my observation of dynamic bloggers who have charmed their crowd. It is the faith of relationships, the magic when your readers want you.

Discovery
When we’re moved to action or wonder we don’t stay self-absorbed. Or silent. We express how we were affected, tell how we found a forgotten part of our heart or the door of a mental paradigm opening. It’s the relating back, our need to deepen connections. I went ahead with this miniseries largely to acknowledge the remarkable support that has made this holistic journey as transformative as it has been for me. It gets electric here sometimes. I told Casey, a new reader, that it felt like we were lighting dynamite in the conversation. We agreed it was kaboom! My generous supporters wow me with their profound, eloquent insights. Fourteen hundred followers with and without the verbal response will be two different blogs. I’d be willing to lose a piece of my stats if that were the only way to keep the extraordinary comments – no way on earth am I parting with them. My grandchildren will know me more richly and deeply for them. In sharing how my writing affected their spirit, beliefs, decisions, my readers have in turn pulled parts of me out of the shadows. I’ve discovered more of myself in the connecting. It was a blogger who folded the poetry back into my hands and told me not to give it up. And though it’s comprised only 15% of my posts, poetry has made up the majority of my Top 10. Which means that if I want to grow faster, I should put out more poems (or shorter posts). It is unthinkable that I almost closed shop in the early days. I was torn between the helpless writing and the uncertainty of blogging. “Who the hec wants to hear another mom blogger?” I grumbled at my husband. Little did I know that my readers would show me I am more than Mother, especially through the feedback on the poems I had yet to write. That yes, I can stake a place among 74 million WordPressers.

Conscious Blogging
Listen to your supporters. Just as you have to move in tune with your dance partner, cue in on their response. Observe your most popular posts. They might shape your blogging. Seeing the Black Santa garner the greatest number of comments among all my posts (until the posts on blogging came out) confirmed I was on track with a big project that’s in the works. I also discovered that I thoroughly enjoy playing Barbara Walters – to gain access to motivations and history, encourage people to spill their guts. Turns out, my readers got a kick out of the role play and the results as much as I did. So it seems my alter ego should be let out again someday.

Community
As each blogger is unique, so will each community be. This reader left a wonderful reply on Part 1. Like energies will find like energies. And this is why I feel compelled to read and comment here. It’s the reason others are compelled to read and write where they read and write. There is an energy that is often more than the sum of the parts. But it all starts with the craft, the need to expel and breathe out something that nudges us to move from us. Just the other day I visited a blog with an energy very different from the one here. The personality, the language of the blogger drew company I probably won’t. It was an active site and the group was having fun. I think two bloggers can also put out a similar post and get a different type and level of response. Your community will be its own.

There’s nothing complicated about blogging at core. To succeed, you need both the interaction and the content others want to interact with. Many of you have made me feel like the richest woman this side of heaven. But the point of this post is to serve my fellow bloggers, to help pave your road of gold.

Let me know what was most helpful. I appreciate the interest in this miniseries.

How to Succeed as a Blogger – But This May Not Work For You, Part 1

This is one post I did not see coming. When a reader recently asked how I built my “vibrant community in such a short time” and solicited a how-to, I thought of the reasons I’m not the ideal blogger to be offering advice. While I’ve been blessed with a dynamic readership, my numbers are not something power bloggers would dignify with a sneeze. I also was as clueless as they come to the blogging world, and got off to a fairly slow start. I didn’t understand what the Reader was, took weeks to learn how to manage my dashboard, did not know to tag my posts (correct, I did not tag them), reparably broke my Follow me widget, had no idea bloggers reached out to one another. Precisely because my learning curve had nothing to do but shoot up, I decided I do have something to say after all. I will share in Part 1 the choices I have made in the blogging and talk more in Part 2 about how this responsive community grew.

Define Yourself
I’ve done network marketing, and appreciate the importance of goal-setting and positive thinking. But I’m just not one to determine I will have X number of followers by such and such time. A part of me remains in awe of people, both in and outside the virtual realm, who will their aspirations into being. Here are a few reasons I don’t dream to the moon as a blogger:

1) My cautiousness against presuming upon my life circumstances
2) Realism. The simple math in my weekly allowance of blogging hours. After Day 5 of not being able to put out my next post, I’m one ornery wife as it is.
3) A different purpose. In what I like to speak of as an organic process, I discovered my blog would be an art gallery – at least an attempt at one. Not of paintings or photographs, but words. And so the way I give birth to my posts fits that vision. If I had to choose between searching for the perfect word and befriending 20 new bloggers in a given window of time, there would be no competition. Because my goal isn’t to bust the roof on my stats. My art will always trump the blogging. This is the act that disqualifies me from any chance at power bloggerdom. Not to say the celebrities among us don’t write well because you obviously can’t attract and sustain a massive following without good content. But those rocketing through the virtual stratosphere will not get hung up over a word. Most people won’t because it isn’t smart to. It’s the romantic in me. The Starving Artist Syndrome. I believe the readers will come, as they have – those who will think with me, drink words with me. Would Hemingway have spent his time marketing himself before perfecting a story? Just heard the man turn over in his grave, swearing at the comparison to a ten-month-old blogger. My writing isn’t perfect, and I continue to go back and touch up old posts. My husband withholds the “like” where his wife falls short of his expectation. Now, of course like any of us I would love to speak to an audience ten times larger. But numbers will not woo me from my beloved word, a writer’s dream and duty to self.

One of the first rules of Blogging 101 is to identify a clear motif for what we want to share along with our target audience. In my earliest days, I read plenty of warnings against keeping my topics as broad as I have. I took a chance and look back, grateful I got away with it. I managed to because while my blog was open-ended, I was not aimless. The intensity I had to pack up and ship back to New York when I settled in the easy West I was able to reroute to cyberspace and put to work for me. I could go all out on my blog, simply be the woman who would much rather sit in on a college lecture than a baby shower.

I’m speaking of what’s consistent with my ability, nature, and temperament. It will be a different story for most of you. Many bloggers are and want to be more carefree and freewheeling. We need four of you for every one of me. Make the fun spirit and fluid energy work for you. As hard as I dig my heels in on some issues, I haven’t built this blog upon rants because I don’t want you coming near only to hear me yell all the time. I want to stay more measured. A philippic of a post that’s been sitting in my drafts pile will be a rational appeal as much as an emotional one when it’s published. I don’t bother sharing what new gizmo my husband got and don’t put up photos of breathtaking places in CA. I screen post possibilities through the grid of my goal, which is to elicit as much mileage out of the limitless potential we enjoy to sharpen one another, provoke thought, examine truth, celebrate beauty. The purpose might sound good to you but you may want to achieve this through a medium other than words.

But Don’t Just Be Yourself
I’ll be talking about the social aspect of blogging in the next segment but once people happen to swing by your site, you need content that impels visitors to become readers, right? Else, they will drop in and drop right back out. I never set out to capture followers in the writing. I don’t think you can decide you’re going to produce a post that will make others want to read and stay. I just write. Like my life depends on it. What gets you up in the morning, inspires you during the day, keeps you up at night? If what you want to share with the world does not light your eyes, you can’t expect it to strike anyone else’s gut or funny bone. Why should people follow your chronicle of pain, emotional or physical? How does your photography or drawing stand out? I am not speaking from the angle of competition. You are already unique as a person. How does your blogging bear your thumbprint? Don’t just be yourself. Be yourself in the fullest. For me, this means the 20th draft. I’m sorry that the bloggers who have collaborated with me know this is no exaggeration. Take the compulsion for the best word, every post signed in blood; and the desire to encourage others along the examined life, and what you have is A Holistic Journey. What are the defining characteristics of your blog and why do they matter?

How can anyone really tell you how to prosper out here when there are over 74 million WordPressers, each sui generis? Be who you are – but I mean, at your best. Find your best. This is what I ask of myself both to please the mirror and make it worthwhile for my readers. Locate your mission and be all you.

Continued in Part Two.