Forgiveness as Spiritual Practice

I make it a practice not to write about my congregation or its members in this blog. I am breaking that practice with this post to tell you about a new book written by a member of my congregation.  I do this with her knowledge, approval and encouragement.


The book is A Forgiveness Journal: Letting Go of the Past by Kristin Robertson.  It’s both a journal through the process of forgiveness and a workbook for moving through the process yourself.  It’s an accessible entry into moving waters with a humble and steady guide.  Like most travel on moving water ways, a guide does not always know what the journey will bring, but brings experience of past trips down river that are useful for navigating the way forward.


I have two favorite things about  A Forgiveness Journal.  The first is its opening emphasis on letting go of what Kristin calls our “grievance stories.”  We tend to carry around our past hurts and our pain, like an endless film loop, constantly playing a story of how we’ve been wronged.  All of us have been truly hurt, pained and wounded. Some of us in ways others of us can not possibly imagine, but most of us take hurts not nearly so tragic and make then into such pain until they become as debilitating.

I like the way Kristin puts it –  “It’s not about singing Kumbuya.”   Forgiveness is not about assuming an attitude that it’s okay that you’ve been hurt or wronged or that inappropriate behavior is acceptable.  Ultimately, we forgiveness for ourselves, so can we drop the grievance story.  Frequently anger and resentment go along with the grievance story, sometimes the anger may even be justified, but as the Buddha taught, “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” In other words, it is not what we are angry at that will destroy us, but the anger itself that will destroy us.

When I was growing up as a Catholic, the spiritual practice of forgiveness we were taught  was called reconciliation.  I like the word.  It needs reclaiming.  I didn’t like the practice of Catholic confession. It didn’t really produce much reconciliation. It didn’t produce much reconciliation between me and God, nor did it produce much reconciliation between me and other people so I, like many other people, abandoned it. After all, confession was a recitation of “wrong” actions for which one received a penalty or penance. There was no real restoration of right relationship, no dealing with the playback loop in one’s head that keep running over and over past hurts and grudges, building up resentment.  There was no real healing of one’s soul or anyone you might have actually wronged or letting them know they had wronged you.

Unitarian Universalists need a reconciliation process. We speak often and at length of right relationship, but we aren’t always good at creating and sustaining it.  We approach it as a social justice requirement, but not often enough as a spiritual practice that involves looking deep inside ourselves, owning our pasts, coming to terms with our hurts, disappointments, and pain and our own role in these feelings and the role of others in these feelings. Kristin’s book contains some concrete exercises for helping people to do these things, thus…

The second thing I really like about this book is that it is a work book. It is not just a series of essays on forgiveness or a standard self-help book, but series of exercises to engage.  This is a book with homework.  If you’re ready for the assignment, and I recommend it, you may find yourself letting go of things, opening your heart, healing, and forgiving someone. It may even be yourself.

Spiritual practices are ongoing – forgiveness, resentments, and anger are things we all deal with – they are recurring features of the human condition.  A Forgiveness Journal is an aid to the spiritual work of reconciliation with others and ourselves.

From the back of the book:

Get your copy of A Forgiveness Journal here.