The Brilliance of the Fourfold Path


In their new book,  The Book of Forgiving,  Desmond and Mpho Tutu describe a fourfold path for healing ourselves and the world.  Two of the paths are pretty obvious, I think. But the other two are what makes the process brilliant and takes us to a deeper level of healing.

The first step on the fourfold path is Telling the Story.  This is a crucial step because, for many of us, it helps lift the veil of shame that surrounds many of our wounds.  Some of us have wounds that we have kept secret, sometimes for many, many years.   Others of us may acknowledge  the person or event or situation that wounded us but choose to stuff it deep within us, never really letting on to how much it has wounded us .  Telling the Story brings the wound into the light.  Telling the story to a person capable of empathy and compassion is a crucial first step toward healing. It is empowering for the person who is wounded and can strip the event of much of power  we feel it has over us.

The way to start, Tutu says, is to tell the truth.  Start with the facts. Tell it to a person who is trusted and capable of empathy and compassion.  and accept  that what has happened cannot be changed.

But Tutu says we don’t stop there. it’s important not to get stuck in simply telling the story. We need to also Name the Hurt (step 2 on the fourfold path). When we only tell the story and stop there, we ruminate over the pain, and the poison of our resentment can permeate us.  When we simply telling the story, we can get stuck in victim mode and blaming.  When we name the hurt, however, we move to a deeper level of vulnerability. We move beyond just facts and identify the feelings within those facts.  We acknowledge that we aren’t simply angry or annoyed or frustrated.  We are hurt.  The actions of the other have hurt us.  Naming the hurt requires  lowering our defenses and  acknowledging that others can hurt us.  Without naming the hurt, we can keep stewing in our anger.  I think inviting us to name our hurt is one of the things that make this fourfold path brilliant.    Because let’s face it — there’s little or nothing in our world that encourages us to vulnerable like that, especially when we have been hurt.  We live in a “look out for # 1” society.  Get the other guy before he gets you.   Never let them see you sweat.  And never admit someone can hurt you.

Tutu and his daughter Mpho invite us into a counter-cultural way of looking at forgiveness — a way where, through our weakness, we find power.   Jesus was all about that  The Tutus remind us of Jesus’ message of the finding our strength through weakness.   By doing the very thing that our culture says it weak — acknowledging our hurt – we will discover our healing.  A paradox. A wise friend once told me, “Whenever you encounter a paradox, pay attention.  God is very near!”

Next post, steps 3 and 4.  Stay tuned……..

Forgiveness — How do you do that?



This Lent, I committed to doing a lot of spiritual reading — reading that feeds the soul and expands my sense of that which is beyond just me and my world — reading that points to God and the holy in our midst.  I’ve read some really incredible things  (more on that in another blog).   But the most challenging and inspiring things I have read are the many articles and stories and books about forgiveness.

I’ve read story after story about people who have experienced traumatic and devastating loss at the hands of other human beings, and have  not only come to forgive them, but in many cases have built a loving and trusting relationship with their perpetrator. Stories like Katy Hutchison, whose husband was murdered on New Years Eve by Ryan Aldridge because he complained about a party next door being too loud ( read more here.)  Or Linda Biehl, who has forgiven,  embraced and worked with Easy Nofemela, the South African man who beat her daughter to death while she was doing service work in South Africa, simply because she was a white person (read her story here .)  These are profound stories of reconciliation and healing.  And I have to say, I hope, if I was ever in a similar situation, I could respond with as much compassion and courage as these people.  But I don’t know.  I think of how angry I STILL get when I think of those mean middle school girls who were cruel to my daughter at the lunch table — and that was 15 years ago!!  How does one come to a place of such compassion and healing?

We think of forgiveness as almost impossible because we wrongly think :

  • to forgive means to forget
  • to forgive means to let the other person off the hook – they will get away with whatever they did.
  • to forgive means to invite the person to just do it again
  • to forgive means you send the message that it’s ok to hurt me like this
  • to forgive means that I was wrong, and I KNOW I am right in this situation!
  • to forgive means you are just being a chump.  Forgiveness is for wimps!

Sound familiar?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a wonderful new book that tells us how to get on the path of forgiveness.  It’s called The Book of Forgiving:  The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Healing the World.  It is a brilliant,  beautiful, heartfelt book that lights the way for us toward reconciliation and healing.  I recently gave a Lenten day of reflection and prayer at St Thomas  where we looked at this fourfold path.  It was an amazing day.

Tutu’s fourfold path is:

Telling the Story

Naming the Hurt

Granting Forgiveness

Renewing or Releasing the Relationship

I will be writing more over the next two weeks about each of these steps on the path.  But for now, as we enter these last weeks of Lent,  I invite you think about these question:   Who have I not forgiven?  Who has hurt me so badly that I just can’t let it go?  Bishop Tutu says not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  To forgive, he says, is the greatest gift of healing we can give to ourselves.  What poison am I still drinking?

Some of the last words Jesus ever uttered were while he hung on the cross and said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”   His last action was one of forgiveness.  How do we heal our broken hearts so that we can be people of forgiveness as well?

Stay tuned…….


A few months back, through my many conversations with people about their lives and relationships, I started to notice  something being talked about over an over again — the need for forgiveness —  and a real dilemma on how to get to a place of forgiveness.  Some people need to forgive others. Some needed forgiveness themselves.  It seemed to me that many of us struggle with this idea of forgiveness. So I decided that for Lent this year, I would dedicate my blog to the topic of forgiveness.

Desmond Tutu said it best:

We are all broken.  And because of our brokenness, we hurt each other.”

It’s as simple as that.

Lent is a time to heal our brokenness.  It’s not a time to beat ourselves up, or wallow in our guilt or self loathing. And, as I have said a zillion times, it’s not a self improvement plan. Lent a time to reflect on the ways we are broken, and how th brokenness has separated us from God and from each other. it’s a time to turn to God who loves us passionately and unconditionally, and who desires nothing less that wholeness and healing for us, and ask God to shoe us hoe to heal.

But many of us struggle with that because we have some crazy images of God.  We don’t see God as the one who loves us unconditionally, or the one who wants healing and wholeness for the whole world.  Somewhere along the path of life,  someone or something taught us a distorted view of God.  and that view has made trusting this loving God difficult.   Here are some of the ways we see God:

God as Cosmic cop – waiting for you to do something wrong so he can punish you – the Gotcha God!

Not quite good enough God – God will love me when I stop drinking, or get all As, or when I am a better mother, or better spouse – but you never quite get to good enough, because nothing you do is ever good enough in this God’s eyes.

God as the cosmic mother’s breast – gives perpetual succor and requires nothing from you, like a baby at its mother’s breast. Doesn’t make for very evolved adults!

Marquis de God:  the sadistic, vicious God who likes to see people suffer or jump through hoops simply because he can.

God as disinterested observer – out there somewhere in the universe but  not interested or involved with my life.

Nationalistic God – a god who blesses your nation at the expense of other nations and people, and calls on your nation to conquer or even exterminate other nations.

God the Bell Hop – available to give you whatever you want

God the Janitor – just there to clean up your messes.

God the Master of Ceremonies – must be present for every baptism, bar mitzvah, wedding or funeral, but must leave people alone the rest of the time.

I’m sure there are others that you can think of.  There are a million of them!  And they all get in the way of experiencing the love of a God who wants life in all its fullness for us.  Without an understanding or trust in a loving God, it is hard to take the first step toward forgiveness of others and forgiveness of ourselves.  Last week in my sermon, I invited the parish to think about what their image of God was.  Do they have any of those crazy images of God?  Many of us have had them at on time or another.  And many of us grow out of them.  But every so often, especially at times of real vulnerability, that old image rears its ugly head and keeps us from trusting the goodness that is all around us.

So here’s the question:  What is your image of  God?  Who gave it to you?  Does it serve you well at this point in your life?  if the answer to that question is “no”, then its time to give that image of God back to whoever or whatever gave it to you and to start new.  Lent is a perfect time to do that.

i invited my  parish to take a first step toward doing just that by doing the following:

Think of a situation in your life that is very difficult for you– something that really has you conflicted about how to handle it.  Ask yourself” What would God have me do in this situation?”  THen substitute the word “love” for the word”God” and ask yourself: “what would love have me do in this situation?”  Not the hearts and flowers Valentine’s Day kind of love.  The  kind of love of a devoted parent who wants even good thing for their child; the kind of parent who knows that sometimes telling the child “no” is the most loving thing they can do for their child; the kind of parent who will see their child through whatever comes, no matter what, to help them grow into wholeness and health. That kind of love.  Because that kind of love and God are one in the same.  THAT is who God is. THAT i the God who wants to walk with you trough this Lent and bring you to a place f healing and forgiveness.

I hope you will follow this blog with me through Lent as we explore the complexities of forgiveness.


Ash Wednesday — Remember you are Dust….. ugh!









“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.  These are the words uttered as we receive ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.   Let’s be honest — we really don’t like being called dust!  Being referred to as dust is like being told you are nothing, useless, of no value.  It brings up every feeling of inferiority that we have experienced in our lives.  How can this be a good way to start this holy season of Lent?

The dust reference is not designed to make us feel worse about ourselves.  That’s not what Jesus is all about.  The dust reference invites us to remember the impermanence of life.  It invites us to stop and remember that all the things we concentrate on day in and day out — all the things we worry about, strive for, take pride in — they are all going to pass away.  None of it is permanent.  Saying “remember you are dust” is another way of saying “remember that your job, your house, your belongings, your 401K,  your physical health, even your relationships, they are all going to end someday. Only one thing will last forever, and that is your soul — your connection to God.”

This past month I attended a day long meditation retreat.  During the course of the retreat, we recited the 5 Reflections of Buddha together.  They are:

I am of the nature to grow old.  There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health.  There is no way to escape having ill health.

I am of the nature to die.  There is no way to escape death.

Everyone I love and all that I hold dear are of the nature of change.  There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My deeds are my closest companions.  My deeds are the ground on which I stand.”

To be honest, I’m still grappling with the last one! But the first four spoke powerfully to me.  Life is impermanent.  All of it.  Lent is a time to stop and ponder that reality and see how that awareness changes how we live and how we see God. Ashes are the symbol of that impermanence.  And that is why we start with that symbol today.

So — how do we begin to ponder this reality?  And how do we find God in the midst of it?

i invite you to establish for yourself this Lent a kind of  “Rule of Life” — things you will do each day to help you go deeper and see what is beyond the physical aspect of life.   The image at the top of this post invites us a kind of Rule of Life.  It says “Prayer. Fasting.  Works of Love.”

Prayer —  Why not make a commitment to 10 minutes a day and 1 hour a week?  Spend ten minutes a day in silence, listening to the small voice within that is God.  Turning off the noise and settling in to the silence is a great way to start recognize the eternal in the midst of our busy lives.  And why not commit to worshipping each Sunday with your faith community?  The fact is we cannot even attempt to live this Way of Jesus on our own.  It is not something meant to be done in isolation. We need each other.  We need the reminder of what Jesus calls us to be in this world, and we need the support from knowing that others are trying to live this Way with us.  Both of those things are present in Sunday worship.  Commit to being part of it each week this Lent.

Fasting — I remember a conversation I had with one of my kids about giving up something for Lent.  They were going to eat healthy for Lent.  And I said,  “That’s a great practice.  And how does that help you become more aware of God?”  Blank stare.  Everyone at St Thomas hears me say this every year:  Lent is not a self improvement program.  The purpose of giving something up is not to show how much will power we have.  The point of fasting from something is to make room for God.  The absence of whatever we are fasting from helps remind us of the presence of God.  So when we have a craving for that chocolate we gave up, it reminds us of a deeper craving for our souls to be at rest in God.  And the lack of chocolate opens an opportunity to pray at that moment of craving.  That’s the point of fasting.  It’s not bout endurance or discipline or any of those things that make us proud.  It’s about awareness — awareness of what lies beyond the craving.  Awareness of what our souls are really longing for.

And maybe what you need to fast from this Lent is anger.  Or jealousy. Or self loathing.  Or guilt — or any of those things within us that really block us from experiencing the love that is all around us.  Worth a thought.

Works of Love — This year at St Thomas,  I gave each of our kids a poster with a path that has forty  squares on it leading to Easter.  Each square is blank and at the bottom of the poster is “How did you show God’s love today?”  I invited the kids to write in the square each day what they did to show God’s love.   it’s not a bad idea for us adults as well!  Decide each day to look for opportunities for show God’s love to others — strangers and loved ones alike.  Keep a journal of what you did each day. See how God spoke to you through those encounters.

The theme for Lent this year is forgiveness.  I will be writing more throughout the season about this.  But for today, remember that you are loved, and cherished and honored by a God that loves you beyond your wildest imagination.  And remember, as well, that you are dust.

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 31 — Something different


I recently got a request from a blog follower to say something about being grateful for our trials and tribulations because they make us stronger.  It was a fair request, but one that I cannot honor. One thing I learned in my Clinical Pastoral Education training for Chaplaincy was to BE with people in their pain — not try to define it for them, or tell how it should be, or try to fix it.  Just be with them. When people are hurting, sometimes the last thing they want to hear from another person is that this will make them stronger.  And because I have no idea who all the people who read this blog  are or what they are facing in their lives, I hesitate to say that what they are facing will make them stronger. It’s just not a given.

But today, I want to tell you about my dearest of all friends, Sr. Christine Mulready, CSJ, or as I called her, Chrissie.  Chrissie was my best friend, my maid of honor, my son Geoff’s godmother, and a guiding light in my life.  She was, in a word, a saint. Not a one dimensional, solemn, never-do-anything-fun kind of saint.  She was a fully alive, funny, deeply faithful saint who loved God immensely and loved God’s people more, especially the poor.  And Chrissie knew a lot about trials and tribulations.  She was born into a large Irish Catholic family, the oldest of six children.  When Chrissie was just eight years old, her mother died of cancer, leaving behind six children under the age of eight, including two year old twins and a three month old baby.  Chrissie’s family had the cancer gene, and she, too, was diagnosed with cancer at age 46.  She died  six years later.

But in her short life, she did amazing things. Chrissie lived her life as a nun in the Community of the Sisters of St Joseph. She worked tirelessly for the poor and the forgotten all her life.  She travelled to Iraq during the first Iraq war and brought Iraqi children who had been injured in the war back to the United States for treatment.  She traveled to Bosnia during the Bosnian War on a fact-finding mission  and advocated back home for an end to the atrocities there.  She travelled to Haiti  to help bring attention to the profound poverty of the Haitian people. She performed multiple acts of civil disobedience to protest nuclear weapons.  She did all this with a lightness of spirit and an infectious joy.  She was a person who just sparkled.  She loved life, despite her own suffering and the suffering she witnessed all over the world.

Chrissie had a great saying.  She used to say:  “There are two kinds of suffering:  Redemptive… and crap!”  Sometimes our trials can teach us things and make us stronger. But sometimes things happen to us that are just awful — that are just crap.  There’s no other way to describe it.  And not everything we experience in life necessarily makes us stronger.  Some things can really level us, make us feel more vulnerable.  Sometimes we come out of our trials feeling fragile, not stronger.  And that is ok.

But here is what I do believe,  in the midst of feeling fragile and vulnerable; even in the midst of the crap.  I believe in a God that can bring us back to life even after those kinds of trials.  I believe in a God who can redeem any situation, no matter how dark.  John’s gospel put it best: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not put it out…”   I don’t think all our suffering makes us stronger.  But I do think God can bring us back to life even when we experience profound suffering and are weakened by it.  Everyday we are offered more life, another possibility, another chance.  Sometimes we can run toward that invitation.  Sometimes we limp toward it. But however we get there, the invitation always stands. We are loved.

So, for my last gratitude post, let m say that I am deeply, profoundly grateful for God.  For a God who never forgets me, even in my darkest hour; for a God who created masterpieces like Chrissie, whose light still shines in my heart; for a God who is able, as St Paul says, to do immeasurably more than we could ask for or imagine.  I am grateful for a God that everyday offers us new possibilities, no matter where we are in life.

And I am grateful to all of you who have faithfully followed this blog all month.  I hope it helps you feel more grateful during the bleak months of winter.  Blessings.

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 30 — Angels


Today I am grateful for angels.   There’s lots of discussion about the actual existence of angels. Some people swear by them, others not so much.  One thing I know for sure — I have had angels in my life.  Not the chubby cherub kind with bows and arrows.  I’m talking about real life people.  I’m talking about the people in your life who give you encouragement, show up out of nowhere when you need them; the ones who always seem to know the right thing to say.  They are that voice that whispers in your ear the words of hope when you need them most.  They always seem give you what you need the most. We don’t always recognize them, but they are there.

The picture above is of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Marie.  Marie was one of my real life angels for 30 plus years.  We met when I was sixteen.  I dated her oldest son for about a minute one summer. And from that summer on,  Marie and I became life long friends.  We were soul mates despite our 25 year age difference.  And throughout our 30 years of friendship, Marie was my angel.  She was the voice of encouragement and truth.  She never hesitated to speak the truth about anything, and she did it in the most generous and loving way. And she was never afraid to talk about God to people.  I admired that in her growing up.  She made me want to spend my life talking to people about God.

I’ve thought so much about Marie this past month because it was she who first encouraged me to write.  I was no more than 30 years old, and Marie started saying to me on a regular basis, “You should write.  You have something to say.”  I had neither the confidence nor the discipline to write back in those days.  And I certainly did not have the courage.  It took more than 25 years for me to muster the courage.  But all through those years, Marie’s voice of encouragement whispered in my ear, ” You should write.  You have something to say.”   It’s almost 10 years since Marie was called home to God. I miss her everyday.  But I carry her voice of encouragement with me always.

We all have had someone in our lives who has been that encouragement to us.  In my mind, those people are angels — sent to us to carry us through when it all seems like too much.  Maybe it was a teacher who got you through algebra.  Or a neighbor who always has your back.  Or a life long friend who gives you the courage to do what you thought you could never do.  Whoever it is and however it shows up, they are a gift from God; God incarnate among us to remind us that we are not alone.  We are more than we think we are.  And we are loved —  always, always loved.

It has taken a zillion angels to get me to this day.  Some of them I recognized, others I didn’t.  But for all of them, I am very, very grateful.

So — who has been your angel?

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 29 — Heroes

Today I am grateful for heroes.  All those people in our lives who, everyday, do the brave, right thing to make this world a better place.   I love the above quote from Joseph Campbell.  I have found this to be truer than true in my own life.  The people who have had the most impact on me and on the world around them are the ones who are connected to something bigger than themselves, whose lives are about more than just feathering their own nest.

You may have noticed that my blogposts are often late on Wednesdays.  That’s because every Wednesday I work at Hospice in the Berkshires as a chaplain.  It’s a long day, ad it’s a day filled with heroes.  The people I work with at Hospice and the people in the medical facilities that we visit are an amazing group of people.  Everyday, they get up and try to make life better for people whose lives are very difficult.  Today I spent time on a geriatric psychiatric unit visiting patients.  I was simply awed by the staff on that unit.  Here they were, surrounded by people that most others would be afraid of, or would simply avoid or just write off.  But the staff on this unit gives their lives to these people.  They work everyday to keep them safe, to treat them with dignity and respect and to let them know someone cares about them.  It take courage, because some of these people are violent due to their diagnosis.  These staff people see through the risk and recognize them as human beings in need of help.

The Hospice staff are just as brave.  On 9/11, they described the heroes of that day as the ones who ran INTO the Twin Towers , not away from it, and all to help their fellow humans, people they had never met.  The Hospice team is like that.  Most people run away from death and are afraid to face it.  These team members move toward people who are dying and care for them till the end of their lives.  They have the courage to face the death and loss with their patients and their families.  They walk into the homes of people they have never met and care for them with compassion and dignity.  It never ceases to amaze me.

Maya Angelou had a great quote about heroes.  She said:  “I think a hero is any person intent on making this a better place for all people.”  Those are the people I spend my Wednesdays with,  and for that I am so very grateful.