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Malcolm Hollick

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Malcolm Hollick

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Reconciliation and Forgiveness
by Malcolm Hollick   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, December 21, 2007
Posted: Friday, December 21, 2007

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Christmas is an appropriate time to ponder the power of reconciliation and forgiveness. Often personal trauma haunts us until we find a place of healing and forgiveness. And often the trauma of war reaches down the generations and centuries, only to explode again when the time is ripe. The only way out is collective healing. Several years ago, in 1999, the Findhorn Foundation hosted an unforgettable conference on Forgiveness. Today, I’d like to share a few of the stories that still stay with me to illustrate the power of this approach.


Often personal trauma haunts us until we find a place of healing and forgiveness. And often the trauma of war reaches down the generations and centuries, only to explode again when the time is ripe. The only way out is collective healing. South Africa could so easily have descended into a blood-bath with the end of apartheid, but instead it became an example to the world with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

ABAGAYLE'S STORY

Abagayle was an ordinary woman; a mother and grandmother. Her story began on the day her daughter Catherine was brutally murdered. From that moment she began her ‘journey of darkness’. She had no religious faith, her mother was too sick to help, her other two children had just left home, and her husband was unable to share the grieving with her. At work, her colleagues and friends were in denial, and many could not bring themselves to talk with Abagayle about her trauma. She believed that finding and executing Catherine’s murderer would make everything ok, and so began eight years of rage, hatred and a lust for revenge.

Abagayle’s ‘journey into life’ was sparked by a meditation class where she learnt to be still and listen within. She began a spiritual quest, joined the Unity Church, and ‘fell in love with God’. She became interested in A Course in Miracles, and was given a video tape introduction in which a Jewish man described how he had forgiven the German soldiers who murdered his whole family. Driving home one day, Abagayle received guidance that she must forgive Douglas, Catharine’s murderer, who by then was on death row.

At 4 am the following morning, unable to sleep, she began to write him a letter, excerpts from which follow:

"I know that Catherine is in a better place than we can ever know here on Earth. I did not know that when Catherine died. All I knew is that I had been robbed of my precious child and that she had been robbed of growing into womanhood and achieving all her potential. The violent way that she left this Earth was impossible for me to understand. I was saddened beyond belief and felt that I could never be happy again...

"I was very angry with you and wanted to see you punished to the limit of the law... In the midst of studying ‘A Course in Miracles’ I could find, to my surprise, that I could forgive you. This does not mean that I think you are innocent or that you are blameless for what happened. What I learned was this: You are a divine child of God. You carry the Christ Consciousness within you. You are surrounded by God’s love even as you sit in your cell. The Christ in me sends blessings to the Christ in you."

The sound of the letter hitting the bottom of the mailbox changed Abagayle’s life. True forgiveness finally gave her the healing she needed.

"All the anger, all the rage, all the ugliness that I was carrying in my body for all those years - it was instantly gone. It just left. And in it’s place I was just filled with a sense of joy and peace and I was truly in a state of grace."

Abagayle’s forgiveness did not require anything more. However, she received a reply from Douglas in which he shared his ‘tears of joy and sorrow’ at having the opportunity to communicate with her. Their contact eventually led to her visiting San Quentin State Prison in California where Douglas was on death row. On that first courageous visit to the prison she saw “the face of God, wherever she looked”. Developing a relationship with Douglas enabled her to understand that we are all one, that we are all inter-connected beings.

Abagayle became an active campaigner for the abolition of the death penalty. She also established a ministry for prisoners on death row and travelled internationally to share her story of forgiveness in the hope that it would inspire others to heal themselves. She established the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance which aims to make the first Sunday in every August ‘International Forgiveness Day’.

“Remember...” says Abagayle, “ forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.”
If you wish, you can read her story in her own words at
http://www.catherineblountfdn.org/abagayle.html

THE PASTOR AND THE IMAM

Today, this is a well-known story that has been made into a documentary film that I really must watch one day. But at the time of the Findhorn Conference it was relatively fresh, and it made a deep and lasting impression on me as the two men shared the platform and told their stories with humour and deep brotherly love.

Nigeria has been torn by strife between Christians and Muslims. In 1992, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye both led gangs which fought each other ferociously with machetes and other weapons. In one battle, Ashafa’s teacher and two sons were killed; and Pastor James lost an arm and he saw his bodyguard’s head severed. I well-remember, all these years later, how Pastor James described his astonishment and fear when Ashafa visited him in hospital – he thought he’d come to kill him. But by reaching out in this way, Ashafa began a process of reconciliation and forgiveness that continues today.

Following is an extract from the daily conference report:

"Pastor James’s story is powerful, yet told with a joy and humour that leaves you wondering how it could be possible to hate such a man. But perhaps within this questioning there lies the pathology of hatred that belies conflict not only in Nigeria but throughout nations. Pastor James’s humanity is not ‘seen’ by those less privileged than us to really meet him, and by those who oppose him for what he stands for rather than for who he really is.

"The story is an extraordinary demonstration of the power of inter-faith reconciliation and forgiveness. Pastor James and Imam Muhammad Ashafa represent new hope for Nigeria and for the conflict between Islamic and Christian peoples in their country and for all places where religious bigotry and intolerance of the ‘other’ has created a culture of bloodshed. ...

"At the core of Pastor James’s model for reconciliation is the need for an understanding of one another’s world view. To really see through the eyes of the other involves ‘living with’ that person. Pastor James is certainly walking his talk here. He and Ashafa have been travelling together, rooming together and experiencing what it is really like to develop an intimate friendship between two men who were once at war with one another. Their story is delightful. Pastor James is irritated by Ashafa’s prayers which begin at 5am. Ashafa cannot understand why his companion worships Jesus as if he were the Divine, rather than ‘merely’ a messenger for the Divine. But the banter is loving and central to the whole message which they carry around the world. “I look at him (Ashafa) and I don’t see faults, I just feel love for him... after all, he is my brother”.

"Forgiveness for Pastor James is something which we need to practise many times each day. We should not waste time waiting for our aggressor to say sorry. He does however advocate a time of mediation and a time for the offender to reflect upon their actions before being given an opportunity to make amends. Ultimately though, it is God who will determine whether a man can be graced with peace.

"Forgiveness requires willingness. “Close your ears to the shadows and you begin to appreciate your friend, you begin to see yourself in him.” Choosing to focus upon this commonality requires huge courage to break with the cultural conditioning perpetuated by charismatic and fanatical religious zealots on both sides.

"(According to Ashafa) Islam has at its very heart the concept of forgiveness. This is the message which Ashafa wishes to put straight, to counter the predominant Western view that Muslims are all extremist terrorists. By citing the Koran, Ashafa spoke passionately about the practise of ‘total submission’ to a system of higher power, of ultimate truth. When one’s path is complete surrender to such a system, peace comes as if you were learning a language. The philosophical basis of Islam is to present the individual with a choice or free will to either adopt negative or positive thinking, and to act accordingly. Courageous free will is to forgive even when one is angry. But forgiveness requires corrective action to compensate the victim. The perpetrator is given the opportunity to show remorse for his actions and to take steps to ‘do penance’ and restore the victim’s losses. Only when there is no repentance does the state intervene. Justice in Islam seeks to correct rather than to punish."

THE SPIRIT OF FORGIVENESS OR EGO

Ashafa wrote this poem for the Conference:

Things are fallen apart
The centre could no longer hold
The falcon is no more hearing the falconer
Something is missing!
The spirit of forgiveness or that of ego
We wish to know; we need to know

Oh Man!

Between hatred and friendship
Between sadness and joy
Between evil and goodness
There is a strong barrier
The spirit of forgiveness or that of ego
We wish to know; we need to know

Oh Man!

Between the body and the soul
Between the water and the blood
Between the spirit and the flesh
There is a strong barrier
The spirit of forgiveness or that of ego
We wish to know; we need to know

Oh Man!

Within the children of Adam
Between the white and the black
Between the rich and the poor
There is a strong barrier
The spirit of forgiveness or that of ego
We wish to know; we need to know

Oh Man!

What is the spirit of ego?
In this lies the power of self
Tribalism, racism and nationalism
It reminds its possessor of negative past
The law of karma, sadness and the joy of vengeance
It flourishes on the radiating light of exclusiveness

Oh Man!

What is the spirit of forgiveness?
In this lies the power of God consciousness
Healing, love and unification
It reminds its possessor of a positive past
The mercy of God, on humanity, nature and the joy in humility
It flourishes on the radiating light of inclusiveness

Oh man and Woman, fellow conference participants
We need to choose, we need to decide
Between the spirit of egocentrism
And the spirit of forgiveness
Which would help us: uplift humanity
Out of the danger of global disintegration

Oh for me and my household
We reject the spirit of ego
We embrace the spirit of forgiveness
In it lies the new radiating light of positivity
So was I taught by my great teacher Muhammad
We have tasted it: It is the sweetest honey
That elevates humanity to God consciousness

Oh!

For Diane and Jerry Jampolsky
For James Wuye and Imam Ashafa
For Miranda, Ben Fuchs and Robin
For men of wisdom and women of intellect
They have chosen the path of honour
They have embraced the spirit of forgiveness
Which has elevated them to God consciousness

Oh!

They represent our symbol of hope
That in a world full of hatred and guilt
Where the spirit of ego is in total control
Where attitudinal changes become the greatest challenge
They gave hope to the hopeless
That the spirit of forgiveness is winning the battle.

Mohammed Imam Ashafa

RECONCILIATION IN NORTHERN IRELAND

The final story I want to share from the Conference is about Northern Ireland.

In a divided country the Corrymeela community is an experiment in creating a space for people where ‘no side can claim it as their own’. At the time of the Conference, Colin Craig was the director of the project and his deep understanding of the Catholic / Protestant divide was delivered with a humility befitting a man working for peace in a country synonymous with violence and bloodshed, bigotry and sectarianism.

Corrymeela is a place where members from all walks of life, from both sides of the sectarian divide can be encouraged to reveal their humanity to each other. The challenge is to facilitate ways in which people can see beyond the messages and the ‘story’ that play automatically as soon as the ‘other’ is labelled as Catholic or Protestant. Experience showed that it is better in the early stages for each group to meet separately, helping to create a sense of safety and freeing up in which they could explore issues about ‘the other’.

Experience also revealed that sitting down and sharing stories in an attempt to achieve empathy is naive in a country which has experienced so much bloodshed and partisanship. Moving out of dialogue and into direct experience of each other is more effective.

In our culture, Colin Craig pointed out, we seek individual freedom which produces rivalry, and a fear that if the other becomes free then ‘I’ cannot. So we seek to eradicate the ‘other’, to stamp out diversity. To escape this way of thinking we have to engage with our fears. We have to learn how to embrace the enemy. “After all”, he pointed out, “it is the gunmen who are leading the peace-process now”.

************

I invite you to share your stories of the power of reconciliation and forgiveness in my discussion group “On the Wisdom Trail” at
http://pods.zaadz.com/seeking_wisdom




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