The Power (and Difficulty) of Forgiveness

Of the many things to be considered today the thing that stands out to me as I sit down to write this is the film we watched this evening called “The Power of Forgiveness.” Four of us from our meeting traveled to St. Luke’s Episcopal in downtown Vancouver to watch this documentary on various (difficult) acts of forgiveness and how various religious (and non-religious) people have thought about the practice. The film discusses a number of different people who have wrestled with very difficult crimes against them. From the 2006 Amish school shootings in PA, to September 11 and even Auschwitz this film covers a lot of ground with a complex topic, but in a way that makes it real and palatable. 

When it came to the Amish story, the film approached forgiveness as something that is “woven” into the very fabric of their culture. One person stated that from a very early age Amish children learn to recite the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.” In this way it becomes not simply a prayer but a pattern and practice for all of life. In my opinion, there is no way any of us could show up on that day when our children were killed in a school house and, having never or rarely practiced forgiveness for any situation, expect that we will be able to extend the hand of forgiveness (I doubt we’d even value forgiveness enough to want to). And even if forgiveness takes practice, and is itself a practice, it should be assumed that this practice is always done within a community. I saw how forgiving a horrendous act on our own would be virtually impossible but to be able to bear that weight in community is something altogether different. In the film someone said “the community helps to absorb the impact of the evil.” In other words together we can disperses an offense in a way that retribution becomes unnecessary and even undesirable. This is part of how the Amish were able to extend forgiveness to the family of the killer.

Forgiveness in my own life has been something I struggle with. In some instances I am quick to forgive and am often willing to be the person to apologize first if I know the relationship can be repaired. On the other hand, I find that I can carry grudges easily, and when I am let down by others I tend to hold onto that. I think that part of this has to do with being able to let go of things (which I have a hard time with) and forgive those in my past who I feel have let me down for one reason or another. I also think that it is connected with my ability (or lack of ability) to forgive myself for not measuring up – to my own ideals or others. The need for forgiveness runs deep and is a lifelong process. I hope that I can continue to grow in my ability to forgive others’ debts and learn of ways to help our church be a community that lives this as well.

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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