Thursday, June 28, 2007

Prayer, Forgiveness, and Judgement

It's common practice among unprogrammed Friends in my part of the world to set aside time at the end of weekly services during which people can ask the meeting to 'hold them (or a loved one) in the light,' which is Quaker-jargon for 'pray for them.' Most of these requests are exactly the sort you would expect. They're for people who are seriously ill or going through difficult times. Occasionally they're for strangers a Friend encountered only in passing.

But recently, I've noticed a trend that rather disturbs me. Some people are using that time to simply vent about people they're upset with. They usually start by asking Friends to hold them and another person in the light, because they're engaged in a conflict. But then they go on to describe the conflict in a way that makes it painfully clear that they are not holding the other party in the light at all. The unspoken meaning behind their words is "I'm angry at this person, and I want you to join me in passing judgement on them."

I used to dismiss this sort of thing as a mild annoyance and try my best to hold the requester in the light. But the more I think about it, the more my feelings shift from annoyance to concern.

I think of the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman: "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone," he said. It's a story--one that was apparantly added to the bible sometime during the middle ages, actually-- that gives the same message that Jesus spelled out quite clearly in the Lord's Prayer when he said "Forgive us our transgressions as we forgive those who sin against us." It's a quid-ro-quo: to be forgiven, we must ourselves forgive.

Perhaps these Friends are struggling to do that, and it's merely not coming out in their words. Or perhaps they believe that by going through the motions of asking for prayers, they're fulfilling their religious obligations on the issue. But when they make these back-handed requests for prayers, it feels like they're asking the Meeting, through silence, to condone behavior that's directly contrary to Quaker teachings. Like they're seeking our silent approval; a group of people who will say 'well, of course you're in the right in this conflict.' And Quakerism is not a faith about 'going through the motions.' It's a faith about being accountable to the divine guidance of God.

As I labor with this issue in my own heart, I find myself struggling to discern God's will for me in this issue. I know in my heart that if I were repeatedly doing something inconsistant with my witness, I would want my faith community to bring that to my attention-- if they could do so in a spirit of love and concern and not in judgement. But is it my place to raise this concern with them? Can I do so in a spirit of love and concern, or am I myself passing unfair judgements?

These are issues I'm seeking clarity on. If this message I have for them is indeed ministry from God, then I pray for the courage to give it, and the grace to do so in a manner that is consistant with Christ's teachings of forgiveness and love. If this is nothing more than an unfounded concern of mine, I pray for the wisdom to recognize that, and the grace to let it go.

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