Sunday, June 21, 2015

The healing power of forgiveness in Charleston

The day before the brutal, hate-filled, racist killing of nine innocent people attending a Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston,  the Scriptures of the Catholic Mass gave us this Gospel passage from Matthew, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  Little did we know that just the next day, our faith in that passage would be put to the test.

Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and more. While these tragic events are different each in their own way, I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to feel something like fatigue at what seems to be a repeating pattern every six months or a year or so of yet another horrific moment when evil raises its head yet again and strikes out at innocents followed by the cycle of recrimination and justification; mourning and weeping.

I pray that it will end. I pray that we will be renewed. I pray that we will find our way to a better reality - one where love conquers hate, light overtakes the darkness, goodness triumphs over evil, and we all find a way closer to each other as brothers and sisters.

But, then, in the face of such tragedy, people of faith can do amazing things that restore faith and hope and love. I think of the amazing power of reconciliation that we saw in 2006 among the Amish people in Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania. If you recall, in October of that year, a 32-year-old man held 10 school girls captive and horrifically killed them before turning the gun on himself. A moment that shocked the world and completely devastated these people.

But their reaction - born of their deep and abiding faith - was to forgive. They forgave the killer of their children and not only in word, but also in deed. Family members of the deceased, just days after burying their own children, attended the funeral of the man who took the lives of their own.

The mother of the shooter, spoke about that moment and said, "For the mother and father who had lost not just one but two daughters at the hand of our son, to come up and be the first ones to greet us...Is there anything in this life that we should not forgive?" She was so moved by this act of forgiveness that she continues to this day to go once a week to care for the most seriously wounded survivor of that day.

This extraordinary, beautiful and powerful forgiveness brought about a transcendence that lead that community to a true sense of healing so that life might go on, that they might move forward. It doesn't make the pain go away; it doesn't solve the problems that lead to the tragedy, but it does allow people to see one another precisely as people who are worthy of salvation, worthy of dignity, worthy of a new future - all because of the power of forgiveness.

Amazingly, we saw something of that again this week in Charleston. Just days after yet another senseless tragedy that took, this time, nine innocent lives of good and holy people studying God's Word in His house, we were humbled to hear these words from the loved one of a victim. The daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance who died at Mother Emanuel said, "I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. It hurts me, it hurts a lot of people, but God forgive you and I forgive you."

Another family member, the sister of Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, said, "We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul."

When tragedy strikes, anger is the easy response and the quick response. Solutions - whether legal, political or societal - are also a fast way to direct our strong feelings into something constructive. These are all necessary responses and part of the process. 

But, a reconciliation born of faith takes time, it takes patience, it takes a willingness to be vulnerable in the face of evil and danger. It is also the only path that can bring about lasting change and true healing. Let us be reminded of that example from the Amish almost 10 years ago. Let us be inspired by these good, holy and brave survivors in Charleston who have the miraculous courage to proclaim forgiveness in this dark and painful moment. 

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  If you've ever wondered what that looks like in practice, look no further than the Amish, look no further Charleston this week. 

Forgiveness transforms, it heals, it calls us higher, it makes us whole, it shows us and the world who God has truly called us to be. 

Let us all strive to do the same. It just might change the world. "...where there is injury, Lord, let me bring pardon."

No comments:

Post a Comment