The 5th Sunday after The Epiphany

It was on a bookmark. The word attracted me. HO’OPONOPONO. I’d never seen it before and it took me a few seconds to say it out loud – to hear it – and I’ve no idea whether I’ve said it correctly. I’m assuming it is a Hawaiian word because I read that it is a Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. This practice teaches us that ‘we are solely responsible for our own life and includes the mantra “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”’. The bookmark then went on to say that I could discover my own HO’OPONOPONO through a selection of mindfulness books.

All the ingredients I encountered on that bookmark – reconciliation, forgiveness, personal responsibility, self awareness, and words such as ‘I’m sorry’; ‘Please for-give me’; ‘Thank you’; and ‘I love you’ – are all good things in my opinion. About 25 years ago, I came across the sentiment ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’. Attributed to Socrates by Plato, it struck a chord with me that people really need meaning in their life for them-selves and for society and especially when suffering or tragedy, and the pain and grief of death come close and thoughts arise – ‘What’s life all about?’; ‘Who am I’?’; Why am I here?’.

HO’OPONOPONO gives answers to those questions. So do many other points of view. But for me there is something missing – in truth – a someone. That someone is Jesus who provides a reference point outside of myself. And that is important because reconciliation and forgiveness are wonderful when they occur in relationships but what become particularly hard is when they are sought by only ‘one side’. Then what do you do? Mindfulness may help you shape the situation in your head. The words may give you a focus. But what about reality? Should we say the mantra if it’s not true but it will keep the peace? I can see myself practising HO’OPONOPONO but rather than engaging with people and the world, actually retreating from it so that the words become armour to keep the world at bay while I increasingly become … self contained.

Now I’m not saying that I am only validated by the world, by others. I do accept personal responsibility for acquiring knowledge, for my attitudes, and for my behaviour. I have a sense of self. Nevertheless those around me shape my experiences and largely I have no control over their behaviour only my own. And that takes us back to where I began – what to do when there is conflict and the need for reconciliation and forgiveness? HO’OPONOPONO?

Not for me because I see it essentially as inward looking and when I am weak, when I don’t want to reconcile or forgive, when I want to lash out, when I don’t care and act selfishly or cruelly, or when evil is done to me and the world doesn’t care, I sense there is nothing in me – except some sort of self interest – that might help me. And my self interest isn’t enough. I have discovered that living with Jesus is hard at times and also a comfort. It is challenging and also assuring. Understanding his forgiveness and reconciliation towards me provides the standard and the strength for my attempts at it – but they also give me an identity. With Jesus, I can face the world as it is – and where there is evil say so and not retreat from it. With Jesus, I can be mindful of who I am – warts and all – and find over the decades that God’s grace really has shaped how I see ‘reality’. I am loved and should never be complacent of that love. I might despair at each generations’ greed or at each person’s situation (who has the perfect life?) – just as I despair over my sins but there is hope after all, not because I think it so, but because there is Jesus and his empty tomb.

Words come to us from within us or from outside. We need both. But at the end of the day, it is the words from outside that come to us that are the most important – especially when they are from Jesus.