Monday, January 28, 2008

Is 2008 going to be the year of unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation? Not in America if election campaigning is anything to go by.

Is 2008 going to be the year of unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation? Not in America if election campaigning is anything to go by. Correspondence I receive from the United States and articles I read both about the state of the country and its relations with its allies and its perceived adversaries reflect depths of division. So friends of America certainly hope that by this time next year those elected can help the country come together.

Will we have to wait for 2009 for new beginnings? I have just completed a new book No Enemy To Conquer – Forgiveness in An Unforgiving World which my publisher wants to bring out at the start of next year as a contribution to new ways of doing things. The book is stories of men and women of different faiths and races learning to walk with ‘the other’, men and women who despite terrible sufferings and ideological differences are prepared to put aside long-cherished hatreds and a desire for revenge for the sake of a new future. It is stories of Christians and Muslims, Protestant and Catholic, black and white. It also includes insights from leaders of different faiths, whether a Jewish rabbi, a muslim prime minister, a Buddhist monk, or a Christian Archbishop.

Because I am known to write on these sorts of subjects people also send me encouraging stories of hope. I have just received one that came too late for my book. It concerns a small country with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants but it is where this remark ‘2008, the year of unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation’ was coined. It is just one of many stories that rarely make other than local headlines but yet illustrate for us all that new ways are possible whether we are from large or small countries.

Few readers will now remember the name Maurice Bishop. But nearly thirty years ago his seizure of power in the island of Grenada, deposing the prime minister, and developing close relations with Cuba alarmed President Reagan and the United States. In 1983, after disputes within the governing party he and a number of his cabinet were brutally murdered. Two weeks later the US, citing concern for political instability and the threat to the safety of American students, and joined by several countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, invaded Grenada. To this day the invasion date, October 25, is celebrated as Thanksgiving day. The events of those years have been described in one Jamaican paper as ‘one of the saddest moments in Caribbean political history’.

On New Year’s day 2008 Nadia Bishop, daughter of the murdered leader and now a lawyer resident in the US, returned to her country and announced that it was time to forgive and be reconciled with those who killed her father. At a press conference she said, ‘I invite you to join here in unconditional forgiveness that is not dependent on anyone accepting responsibility for anything nor a request that forgiveness be granted to them.’ The day before she had met in prison with some of those convicted of the murders and they had expressed their regrets for the events and had apologized to all those who had suffered losses. She described their three hour meeting as warm and joyous, with forgiveness and reconciliation welcomed by all. ‘We mutually freed each other from the bonds of negativity that have existed between us these past 24 years,’ she said. ‘The best word to describe what happened at the prison is “grace”. God’s grace was with us in that room, we all felt it and we were all blessed by its presence.’ As well as forgiving them she also apologized to those who would have felt harmed by her father and the revolution.

Marcelle Belmar, sister of one of those who was killed along with her father, supported her at the press conference. For years Marcelle had felt that these men should remain behind bars but her feelings had now changed. ‘At the prison I was able to embrace them, was able to express love, and to pray with them. Just as how they felt relieved, it took off that great burden from me…and I just want to say too it is our pride sometimes that causes us not to forgive.’

Nadia described forgiveness as a journey not a destination. ‘Let us from this day forward tell a new story about our people, a story of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of renewed purpose, of renewed faith, of renewed hope, a story of success and triumph over adversity, and the transformation of the individual and collective pain in our lives into a new purpose for our lives and for our country. We are a Christian nation. But how many of us practice forgiveness, even once, much less forgiving seventy times seven.’

She said that one could see clearly that Israelis and Palestinians must come together to achieve peace and stability and also what needs to be done with warring factions in Darfur. ‘But if we can’t find common ground with our brothers and sisters in our own country, how do we expect peace to exist anywhere else in the world. Let each of us this year be the change that we want to see in the world.’

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