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A Prayer of Forgiveness and Blessing

Updated: 5 days ago

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 16th of Eighth Month, 2020

Speaker: Welling Hall

Scripture: Michael Birkel's translation of 1 John 4: 7-12


Loved ones, let us love one another, because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this was God’s love was manifest among us: God sent God’s only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love—not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent God’s Son to be an atoning for our sins. Loved ones, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.


Good morning, Friends!


This past January, in other words, in an entirely different world, I was given the amazing gift to take an Earlham School of Religion class on prayer and creative writing with my friend and colleague, Michael Birkel. Today I am going to tell you a story about how the union of creative writing with prayer provided an unanticipated opening to heal a relationship with my mother who passed away 14 years ago last month. Today’s service has been planned around her and my relationship with her. For example, I’ve been working on a series of collages initially inspired by my mother and today’s bulletin art is from that series.


My mother loved music and singing. She grew up speaking Mandarin and today we would call her an athlete: she was a dancer, a tennis player, and a bicyclist. This collage includes references to her leading youth hostel tours in Germany between the wars, her love of bright colors, and her appreciation for fine chocolate, among other earthly delights. The Russian text in the collage is a reference to my presence in her life. My vibrant, dancing mother is a person I barely knew.


Reading Marilynne Robinson’s book Gilead in Michael’s course transformed my relationship with my mother. The novel is a first person narrative composed by a dying Congregational minister named John Ames. As Ames contemplates the Afterlife, he is consumed by questions of love, reconciliation, and forgiveness, including how to forgive someone for a wound so unfathomable that he doesn’t even know where to begin. His questions, reflecting both book-learning and a sensual love of life; his tentative answers to ultimate questions; and his rejection of a pedantic faith that tolerates no mysteries, resonate with my own theology.


One of the assignments Michael posed for us was to write a prayer of forgiveness and blessing in the style of John Ames. Although the character Ames was not a Quaker, I imagine that he would be very much taken with this query from British Friends:

Are you open to the healing power of God’s love? Cherish that of God within you, so that this love may grow in you and guide you. Let your worship and your daily life enrich each other. Treasure your experience of God, however it comes to you. Remember that Christianity is not a notion but a way.

And so, with these ideas working within me, I wrote a Prayer of Forgiveness/Blessing to my deceased mother. This is what I shared with my ESR classmates in January:


Lately, I've started to ask myself this question, “What would someone do if they knew, incontrovertibly, from their baby toes to their bangs, that they were loved unconditionally?” How would such a person walk in the world, shoulder their burdens, and move on from trouble? If I could imagine that sense of assured belonging, perhaps I could move that way. And so, perhaps could you, if there were any troubles to move away from in the Afterlife (which there are not). I believe this is the message of John 4:16 “We have known and believed that God loves us. God is love. Those who live in God's love live in God, and God lives in them.”


I know now how ill you were and had been for at least a decade before I was born. And Dad, bless his patriarchal soul, would have been absolutely no help at all. How overwhelming it must have been to find yourself unexpectedly pregnant again despite “the Change" and your despair as you watched freedom from the daily tedium of child rearing recede far into the future. With that in mind, I can comprehend your distance -- like a star from another galaxy whose light grew cold before it touched me.


I do have a few happy memories of you -- I'll share the one because I believe it was a particularly happy day for you too. You were, to use a Spanish expression that you wouldn’t know, "in your sauce." We went, you, me, and Dad, to the World's Fair in New York City. As saccharine as it sounds now and despite all the awful cliches with colonizing overtones, I was completely enchanted by the colorful, singing dolls in the Small World exhibit - and I wouldn't hesitate to guess that's one reason why I chose international relations as my vocation. But the absolute best part of the day for you, as I recall, was taking me to the Fair’s re-creation of a Belgian village where we ate thick, crusty waffles with sweet, juicy red strawberries, slathered with the highest airy mounds of whipped cream that I had ever seen in my whole, entire six and three/quarters years of eating in this world. And you were laughing and smiling and happy, enjoying a moment together with me.


If there were waffles in the Afterlife, I could pray that you might enjoy one now. But eating one alone, however majestic the setting, misses the point entirely. I might however, tweak my question, “How might a person move through the world if she were buoyed by a memory of sharing a heavenly Belgian waffle with her mother?”


***


When I got home from class after sharing my Prayer of Blessing/Forgiveness, my Inbox contained an unexpected email from my sister Deb that included a scan of a letter that I had written a lifetime ago and did not remember.

I had written to my two big sisters away at camp in the summer of 1964 to tell them I missed them. “I forgot you are my sisters,” I said. In all caps and an extra special font I announced that I was going to go to the WORLD’S FAIR on July 27. The next day in class I told other students about this synchronicity. “Synchronicity is the secular word for it,” Greg said.


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