My Thursday morning study group is reading, reflecting, and ruminating on Bishop Tutu and his daughter, Rev. Dr. Mpho Tutu’s book entitled, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. I love it. And I probably hate it a little. I find their logic, and reason, and research, and practical advice accessible and simple and profound and sometimes oh so hard to apply to my life and the life of this world. It requires of me to live into a bigger heart and spirit than I both am or very often see in the world, and at the foundation of any ability to move toward that kind of generosity, as the Bishop states, starts with faith. In our humanity, most of us realize that without a power larger than ourselves, we can’t and/or won’t often choose the harder path, even if we believe it might bring a certain freedom, happiness, or healing that is previously unknown.

From the beginning of the book, Bishop Tutu defines the South African way of making sense of the world called “Ubuntu.”

“The word literally means, ‘humanity.’ It is the philosophy and

belief that a person is only a person through other people. In

other words, we are human only in relation to other humans.

Our humanity is bound up in one another, and any tear in the

fabric of connection between us must be repaired for us all to

be made whole. This interconnectedness is the very root of

who we are.”

If my reality and identity and survival is caught up in who you are, and your reality and identity and survival is caught up in who I am; it gives a different urgency to our need to find a way to be in relationship with one another even in the most difficult of circumstances.

It’s hard for me to disregard Bishop Tutu’s wisdom on this given that he was given charge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa as apartheid was ending and the country was making its way forward under the leadership of President Nelson Mandela. The mutual wisdom of realizing, even in their own suffering at the hands of extreme racial bias, that for the country to move forward peacefully into a brighter future, folks who had been harmed needed a place to state their harm, and folks who had done harm needed to face it and have an opportunity to either ask forgiveness or not (Tutu says most often they did). These gatherings did not change the consequences for the perpetrators, nor did they bring back the loved ones from death for the victims, but the process of naming the truth and being heard was more healing to each side than anyone realized it could possibly be. Not every story turned out with rainbows and doves, but the moments of speaking and hearing the truth were sacred, and facing the humanity in another was often transformational, and both proved to be a way for a polarized nation to find a way into a future without the predicted continuation of intense violence or war.

From the experiences Bishop Tutu had in the process of the pain and sometimes celebration, he and his daughter sifted out what they call the Fourfold Path of Forgiveness. I want to state it here with the caveat that reading the book and engaging in the spiritual exercises and the questions at the end of each chapter is incumbent for the path to be most effective. Yet I risk putting the steps here simply because I so believe our world, and each of us living in it in these most complex times, need to know that forgiveness and healing are actually possible. The steps are 1) Telling the Story; 2) Naming the Hurt; 3) Granting Forgiveness; and 4) Renewing or Releasing the Relationship. Each of these steps have their own challenges, each has their own nuances, and each is as unique to us as we are as individuals experiencing life on the same world but from often vastly different perspectives. The common piece that initiates the process is a willingness to try and a belief that it is worth it. “Forgiveness takes practice, honesty, open-mindedness, and a willingness (even if it is a weary willingness) to try.”

Ubuntu. I am willing to try. Are you? We are interconnected, so while it is a uniquely individual choice, it is at its best, a choice made together, and a choice that is made over and over and over again. I leave you with two examples of Tutu’s words he calls “What the heart hears.” The first one ends the first chapter entitled, Why Forgive

I will forgive you

The words are so small

But there is a universe hidden in them

When I forgive you

All the cords of resentment, pain, and sadness that had wrapped

themselves around my heart will be gone

When I forgive you

You will no longer define me

You measured me and assessed me and

decided that you could hurt me

I didn’t count

But I will forgive you

Because I do count

I do matter

I am bigger than the image you have of me

I am stronger

I am more beautiful

And I am infinitely more precious than you thought me

I will forgive you

My forgiveness is not a gift that I am giving to you

When I forgive you

My forgiveness will be a gift that gives itself to me.


And the last page of the book in the final chapter entitled A World of Forgiveness:


Here is my book of forgiving

The pages are well worn

Here are the places I struggled

Here are the p laces I passed through with ease

Here is my book of forgiving

Some of its pages are tear-stained and torn

Some are decorated with joy and laughter

Some of its pages are written with hope

Some are etched with despair

This is my book of forgiving

This book is full of stories and secrets

It tells how I finally broke free from being defined by injury

And chose to become a creator again

Offering forgiveness

Accepting that I am forgiven

Creating a world of peace



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