One of Jesus’s followers asked, “How many times must I forgive my brother or sister?” He answered, “Every time.”
Recently, I read an article on why ceramic artists are so good at dealing with failure.
It’s true. Potters, sculptures and ceramists all engage in long processes of developing an idea, preparing materials, working with clay that requires a wealth of knowledge, patience and painstaking efforts to develop skills, only to sooner or later (usually sooner) having to face the cracked piece, failed kiln firing, glazing errors or just having your precious work fall on the floor in a million pieces. Sometimes the kiln disappoints and it’s notable that this art form requires you to give over your precious effort to a kiln that transforms it into something wonderful. Or not. Sometimes, you just don’t like the results of your work after months of effort. If a potter can’t cope with failure, then she ought to find another line of work.
Someone else described the creative process of making pots as holding a balloon over a circle of cacti. Anything can happen. This is the tenuous nature of craft and of life.
Failure is a part of life for all of us and we are reluctant at times to realize that pain is gain.
Pain is gain on so many levels. When we are open to learning from our mistakes and overlooking the mistakes of others, our lives are bigger, richer and less prone to control, to judgement, to rigid thinking. Pain becomes gain.
If life is not a matter of sometimes dealing with our failures and our pain, then what are we to make of Jesus’s consistent message of forgiveness, of compassion toward the other, of being generous to those in need? Is not forgiveness the acknowledgement that some failure has occurred on some level, either our own or someone else’s? Failure is a part of life and the Gospel stories are always inviting us to hear a deeper calling beyond our own self-interest.
The art of living mirrors creating art in a studio, sitting at a wheel, before a canvas, at the keyboard, or with a musical instrument in hand — we are always beginning again. Practice, practice, practice, practice. The Good News we preach is to always see that good is possible in the face of failure, that trust in recovery from sin is possible. The Good News we preach is to always know God’s love so deeply that when we fail, we know there is another moment to keep trying. Belief in the Good News includes accepting failure at times, our own and the failure of others too.
How many times do I have to forgive? Every time.