Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Forgiveness, Part II

And now for Part II on Forgiveness.

What really started me thinking more deeply once again about forgiveness were three news items: one on the TV and two in the Toronto Star newspaper. I quickly gave some indications last night of how I have approached my own struggles with forgiveness: by acting loving towards my enemies whether I feel that way or not -- especially by praying for them each day; making my struggle to forgive an regular issue in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and reminding myself frequently that my faith teaches that I will be forgiven to the same degree that I forgive others. But that is just my way and there are all sorts of other ways out there that are enabling people to forgive and learn to love no matter how terribly they have suffered.

The first news item that really started me re-thinking this whole subject was about elephants! Perhaps some of you saw the recent 60 Minutes segment about the elephants gathering in northern Africa. They are very social animals and often get together in family groups. The reporter was being flown over an area where an unusually large number of elephants were gathering when they spotted men on horseback with guns. The guide knew right away what was going to happen so they put the plane down as soon as they could and got a land vehicle and drove overland to the location only to find rotting elephant carcasses as far as the eye could see -- only the ivory tusks had been taken.

As an adult, I have come to have a great appreciation of all the creatures we share this planet with and when I see human beings casually slaughtering these magnificent beasts in order to make black market trinkets for tourists, I truly feel hate rise up in my heart. I don't know these men and will never meet them, but there is a part of me that could gladly kill them -- instead, I begin the difficult process of praying for them -- not praying to change them, but simply asking God to bless them and when I think of them, praying to change my thoughts from anger to thoughts of compassion. I will tell you the truth -- it ain't easy and lots of times I don't succeed at all!

The next item that stirred all this up for me was a photo in the Star newspaper. It is a photo that I am not really sure should ever have been taken -- it is just so intimate and personal. However, it was taken and it was published and I saw it and I thought to myself "how will she ever live with that terrible grief?"

Her 3-year-old daughter was playing where one would assume she would be safe: the yard of her baby sitter's house, when a car with two teenagers in it went out of control and ended up on the lawn, killing the little girl. You know how I love to look at hands -- well, look at hers -- she is feeling such anguish and yet her hands hold the bird in such a way that it is not frightened. Will she ever be able to forgive? I am mute before her for I have never suffered such a tragedy.

Then the inquiry started regarding the work of the pathologist, Dr. Smith. The paper shows some of the people whose lives were forever changed by Dr. Smith's findings -- findings which have now proven incorrect. Think of being charged with murdering your own child or the child of a family member. Not only is your precious child gone, but you find yourself accused of cruelly murdering it. Where do you even start to rebuild your life after something like this?

And what about forgiveness? It seems to me that if you allow the hate to take over it would eat you up like cancer and rob you of any hope for ever being really free again. What can we say in the face of such tragedy?

Within the framework of my Christian faith, I pray for them all -- but then I must also pray for Dr. Smith as well as for the teenagers who killed the 3-year-old at play as well as the men who killed the elephants. But of course, Christians are not alone in this approach. Just look at what a world-famous man who has suffered greatly for many, many years has to say about his fellow human beings:

"Whether people are beautiful and friendly or unattractive and disruptive, ultimately they are human beings, just like oneself. Like oneself, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to one’s own. Now, when you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all. As long as they are human beings experiencing pleasure and pain just as you do, there is no logical basis to discriminate between them or to alter your concern for them if they behave negatively.

Let me emphasize that it is within your power, given patience and time, to develop this kind of compassion. Of course, our self-centeredness, our distinctive attachment to the feeling of an independent, self-existent “I”, works fundamentally to inhibit our compassion. Indeed, true compassion can be experienced only when this type of self- grasping is eliminated. But this does not mean that we cannot start and make progress now."
The Dalai Lama is truly a man of peace, compassion and forgiveness. He had everything taken from him as a young man, he had to flee from his country and he has had to watch the mistreatment of his people who stayed behind. Yet, he speaks of those we would assume to be his enemies with compassion and even kindness. He does not excuse their behaviour, but the Dalai Lama does not hate and in spite of all he has suffered, his life is filled with a joyous freedom.
So much of our desire to forgive, our struggles to forgive and the peace that can come when we are finally able to forigive -- so much of this is a mystery -- like so many other things in our lives.
In the final analysis, all I can tell you is what seems to be working in my life in the hope that some part of it might work for you.
The reason I chose this drawing to end with is because it is called "Walking Away From Slavery" and really, what it seems to me we are all seeking is that freedom that comes when we are able to trustingly rest in a Love greater than ourselves -- to walk out of bondage into the promised land.
Walking Away from Slavery, drawing by S. Thayer


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