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Forgiveness not always easy but worth trying to achieve, books say

By Reviewed Jan Kil
Posted: 2/6/2015

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These are the covers of "The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World" by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu and "The Forgiveness Handbook: A Spiritual Wisdom and Practice for the Journey to Freedom" by editors at Skylight Paths. They are reviewed by Jan Kilby. (CNS)

"The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World" by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. HarperOne (San Francisco, 2014). 240 pp., $25.

"The Forgiveness Handbook: A Spiritual Wisdom and Practice for the Journey to Freedom, Healing and Peace" by the editors at SkyLight Paths. SkyLight Paths (Woodstock, Vermont, 2015). 256 pp., $18.99.

Forgiveness is essential for maintaining peaceful relationships and harmony in society.

This is the message of two new books -- "The Book of Forgiving," written by retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Rev. Mpho Tutu, his daughter and an Episcopal priest, and "The Forgiveness Handbook," an anthology created by the editors at SkyLight Paths publishing house.

The Tutus write from their experience with forgiveness as citizens of South Africa who lived during the apartheid. Archbishop Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his anti-apartheid activism and was appointed in 1994, after apartheid ended, to chair the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Rev. Tutu is executive director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

The authors first help readers understand the nature of forgiveness and why it is important. They then describe their theory of four steps in forgiving. These include telling the story of harm, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, and renewing or released a relationship.

In their final chapters, the Tutus focus on needing forgiveness, forgiving oneself and creating a world of forgiveness. They illustrate their points through dramatic stories from their lives and those of others.

The writers convey some important truths about forgiveness. One is that, as they write, "we can't create a world without pain or loss or conflict or hurt feelings, but we can create a world of forgiveness." They are optimistic about this occurring because, as they say, "we are hard-wired to forgive and connect."

Another truth is that both those seeking forgiveness and offering it can benefit. "It is how we become whole again," they state. To illustrate this, they cite the South African word "ubuntu," meaning humanity. "A person is only a person through other people," they write, and "any tear in the fabric of connection between us must be repaired for us all to be made whole."

They show, in addition, how those harmed can use suffering creatively. They can become more empathetic with others who suffer, as well as work to prevent future tragedies, they state.

The authors emphasize the value of practicing forgiveness so that it becomes a "quality of character." "When I cultivate forgiveness in my small everyday encounters, I am preparing for a time when a much larger act of forgiveness will be asked of me, as it most certainly will," they write.

They discuss, too, why those forgiving others can be justified in releasing relationships. The need for self-forgiveness is addressed, as well. "It is how we make meaning out of our suffering, restore our self-esteem and tell a new story of who we are," they write.

"The Book of Forgiving" is a remarkable psychology and spirituality of forgiveness. The book reflects the authors' humanity and high quality of thinking and writing and offers an inspiring, hopeful message.

"The Forgiveness Handbook" contains 67 contributions by 52 authors from many faiths. The writers include clergy and other spiritual leaders.

The selections are excerpts from books previously published by SkyLight Paths and Jewish Lights. They are primarily short essays, but some sections from the Bible, other holy books and prayers of spiritual writers are also included. The readings are arranged by group, on eight different aspects of forgiveness.

One of the primary messages of the book is that forgiving is difficult because it requires overcoming fear, pride, anger and isolation. Another is that it can be a transforming experience that leads to moral growth. The writers describe it metaphorically as a "journey," "path," "bridge" or "gift."

This growth can lead to developing compassion for others and oneself. "The basis for Jesus' entire ministry was a sacrificial, healing love for others deeply rooted in the Jewish understanding of God's compassion for all who are created in God's image," writes the Rev. Peter Wallace, author of the essay "Living in Love."

"It may be an act of love to one who hurt us, but it is also an act of love directed within to decide to release the hurt rather than clutch it to ourselves," states Nancy L. Bieber, author of the essay "The Fruit of Love."

Readers of "The Forgiveness Handbook" can gain great insight, advice and encouragement from this book.

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Kilby is a writer in San Antonio.