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Why Forgiveness?

Dear Participants in the class on Finding Our Way Home,

This is the second of an occasional blog with an ongoing invitation to you to add to it. Below is my borrowed answer to the question of “Why forgiveness?” which I posed last Thursday near the beginning of our discussion of forgiveness. Below it are the definitions of forgiveness that I read. I would love it if you would add yours. My own definition has evolved over the years. The Bosnians helped me gain a deeper understanding of it. Fifty years ago I might have said it was impossible. The evil in the world already seemed so huge that some of it seemed unforgivable (equate that with unforgettable), since at the time I thought of forgiveness as “forgetting about” horrible crimes and “moving on.” It seemed like whitewashing to me, and it didn’t seem fair to let the perpetrators “off the hook.” But now, I don’t think that’s what forgiveness is or does. If perpetrators can be brought to remorse and to justice, it makes it easier for us to have a movement of the heart in the for of compassion or forgiveness toward them. But even if they don’t, we can heal from the wounds they dealt us and we can see them with clearer eyes. That’s what I call forgiveness.

Why forgiveness?

Forgiveness is an action of the heart which can release someone from the bondage of our blame, scolding, resentment or hatred….and that someone could be ourselves. Forgiveness is freedom and strength instead of internal bondage and victimization. As we find a way to release those painful emotions towards others who have harmed us we actually find freedom for ourselves. Maybe our efforts will help them, especially if we can be together with them and ritualize the repair, but more importantly, it will help release us from the shackles of resentment and the burden of hatred. If we are not truly released from those bonds they live in the shadows of the soul, and they will find a subterranean way to express themselves. Or, they will find a very above-ground way, such as war. Trauma ever repeating itself, as Salih said.

Why is this connected with our overarching theme, “finding our way home?” Because ultimately home is our place of safety, and we don’t want to take poison into it. We really don’t want to keep recreating a scary and ultimately unlivable world, which the intergenerational transmission of unworked-through trauma does. Sometimes we use the word “home” to mean death, and we don’t want to take poison over to the other side either.

Vahidin’s definition of forgiveness is “forgiveness is unburdening myself.”

Archbishop Tutu says "Forgiveness is how we bring peace to ourselves and our world."

Landrum Bolling says “Forgiveness is giving up hope of a better past.”

In Bosnia it is customary to ask forgiveness of one’s loved ones if one thinks one is going to die. So we’ll leave it at that this time and come back next time to look at Vahidin Omanovic’s dramatic experience of hating and then forgiving the Serbs who killed so many members of his group, the Muslims.

From your own experience, what do you think forgiveness is? (Please share your thoughts in the comments section below)

With you on the journey,


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