Tuesday, September 18, 2012

...thoughts on forgiveness

"Lunch with Kris" by Carolynn Thomas Jones (see artist info in right column)

She told me he had admitted he was wrong and had asked to be forgiven. And seemed quite satisfied to leave things there. I understood. It's easier that way.

Yet his confession absolved him only. In no way did his words - honest words - address her part in the equation. Her recollections revealed a sad life, where the satisfaction of vindication and victimhood were preferable to truth.

Step back in time. Another conversation. I had made apologies for not responding to the young woman.  Indeed I had felt lax after she had sent a stack of poems and I'd failed to reply. A talented, energetic poet, she replied, "You know, the opposite of love is laziness." I was torn and tired, stung by her words. Our son had been hospitalized for six weeks. Our daughter, two years younger, had her own needs. The pass the guilt, please moment quickly dissipated and my next thoughts were angry ones. The opposite of love sometimes feels a lot like unkindness and judgment. But, ever the southern creature, I smiled.

The young woman was right in her statement, if not in her assumption. Laziness can be dressed up and taken out on the town. It can win us sympathy and keep us from taking personal responsibility for ourselves. Another critical thread runs through these two incidents also: forgiveness.

I'm currently re-reading Simon Wiesenthal's book The Sunflower...a deliberate, meditative one-chapter--an-evening commitment. If you aren't familiar with the book, the preface gives a brief description: Simon Wiesenthal tells a personal story of an incident that occurred in a concentration camp and asks, what would you have done in his place? Theologians, political and moral leaders, and writers responded to his question - a question that is at once religious, political, moral, and personal - each from their own perspective. As would be expected, a wide variety of opinions was expressed. Each and every respondent had to imagine him or herself in the place of a concentration camp prisoner, to face the enormity of the crime before them, and reflect on the implications of their decision. In this one isolated case, was forgiveness an option, and what would it mean for the victim as well as the perpetrator of these crimes?

In The Sunflower, Wiesenthal tells of passing a military cemetery as he was marched back and forth from the concentration camp while on work detail. He wrote, On each grave there was planted a sunflower, as straight as a soldier on parade. I stared spellbound. The flower heads seemed to absorb the sun's rays like mirrors and draw them down into the darkness of the ground as my gaze wandered from the sunflower to the grave. It seemed to penetrate the earth and suddenly I saw before me a periscope. It was gaily colored and butterflies fluttered from flower to flower. Were they carrying messages from grave to grave? Were they whispering something to each flower to pass on to the soldier below? Why, yes, this was just what they were doing; the dead were receiving light and messages. Suddenly I envied the dead soldiers. Each had a sunflower to connect him with the living world, and butterflies to visit his grave. For me there would be no sunflower. I would be buried in a mass grave, where corpses would be piled on top of me. No sunflower would ever bring light into my darkness, and no butterflies would dance above my dreadful tomb.

Wiesenthal addresses a horror born in a holocaust of unimaginable proportions. Daily, though, each of us struggles with both sides of forgiveness. We have all hurt others. We have all been hurt. And then there's that tricky situation where we are compelled by conscience to forgive one who sees no need to be forgiven.

I've reached the conclusion that I am not capable of generating true forgiveness of any degree, much less epic proportion. I can only open myself to be a vessel of forgiveness. Life has stripped me of youthful notions of a cosmic butler waiting breathlessly for my needs/wants lists.  I return to lines from Charles Van Gorkom's poem, "The Saint":  There is a king in you and a kingdom, a Golgotha of broken dreams, a Calvary of great love, an empty tomb. I responded to his poem with a single line: "made in the image of." Charles commented, "More than made in the image - now restored and manifested every day more and more..."

Robert MacAfee Brown stated as part of his response to Wiesenthal's question in The Sunflower:
What we can do on the far side of such an impasse is to respond to another question and truly make it our own. In Elie Wiesel's "The Gates of the Forest", a rabbi, confronted with evil and God's transparent involvement in it, asks out of deep anguish, "What is there left for us to do?" This is what we must exhume from the debris of our inadequate "answers." What "answers" there are will finally come not from the region of our minds, but from the precincts of our hearts. It will be in doing rather than in speculating that we will learn whatever it is permitted us to learn. "What is there left for us to do?"

from doing justly
and walking humbly with God  
to standing with the victims 
and the oppressed.

And if we do so, perhaps, just perhaps, a world will begin to emerge in which we do not have to ask unanswerable questions any longer. 

Forgiveness...a lumbering process, filled with pain, in the presence of unbearable silence. Not responsible for the response. Definitely not for the lazy. But our only hope. Dr. John Claypoole wrote, "We forgive because we can't forget." When asked how he was able to forgive his jailers when he was finally released after twenty-seven years in prison, Nelson Mandela said, "When I walked out of the gate I knew that if I continued to hate these people, I was still in prison."

We hold the key.

ABOUT THE ARTIST, Carolynn Thomas Jones:

Carolynn has studied art at the University of Alabama, Samford University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and George Peabody College where she received a degree in art and art education. She expanded her education to include space for nursing and clinical research careers. In all her spare time, this mother/doctoral candidate/artist is also a labyrinth facilitator.

Her paintings have been selected by several juried exhibits and is found at Artists Incorporated Gallery in Birmingham, Alabama, at The Gulf Island Gallery in Orange Beach, Alabama and in numerous private collections. She is a member of the Birmingham Art Association, Mountain Brook Art Association, and Alabama Plein Air Association. AND a proud member of The Village Painters in Birmingham, Alabama (www.thevillagepainters.com).

Visit her website and learn more about this talented artist:


BrightSoul said...

Having lived through what most people consider an "unforgivable" offence by a member of Christ's body, and acknowledging my inability to forgive,because I COULD NOT forget, I learned to keep open to forgiveness till God alone did the work INSIDE me and I could walk away, free.
First I had to acknowledge that I was getting bitter, then to acknowledge that I needed to say the words "I forgive.."in prayer and pray FOR my tormentor. It was o.k. to acknowledge that what was done was NOT OK and that I didn't have to cover my feelings of hurt and pretend to be a Christian sister in public. I could turn away from the extended hand in church that would have put the lie to the intensity of the hurt, but was faithful to pray.
This took more than 10 years, but when it was finished, I was gloriously delivered from even thought of the offence. I didn't try to forget, I simply don't feel the anger and hurt....I am truly free, and through a long road that everyone could watch, a living story of Forgiveness happened.
I Remember, but the sting is gone. Unforgiveness is death. When Christ deals with you in it, then death is overcome with Victory. "Death..where is thy sting?.."

Celeste said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I had forgotten that I'd mentioned The Sunflower in an earlier post (11/9/11). But I've watched someone struggle with unforgiveness in recent weeks so it all surfaced. In the earlier post, I told of a conversation with an older minister. “Hurt is real. But God heals our wounds,” the old preacher told me, “and let’s us keep the scars as reminders. Betrayal, pain, life’s losses: these are too big, too deep, for us mere mortals to conquer and subdue. We alone cannot create a forgiving heart. Just keep praying and one day you will realize that you care about this other soul . . . about this other’s soul. And yours,” he added, “will have grown.” We don't have to like what others do. We can't forget. But we don't have to be held captive by unforgiveness. The tomb is empty.

BrightSoul said...