Forgiveness(photo by Michelle Johnson-Weider)


Discussion date: Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.


Dear Still Water Friends,

I’ve been struggling since I learned about the horror in Orlando. For a while, it was hard to feel anything other than the physical gut-wrenching impact of tragedy. Then a sort of numbness set in as I witnessed the responses to the killings relayed in the media. I reached out to our senior teacher, Mitchell Ratner, currently in Plum Village, who counseled that Thich Nhat Hanh warns that the worst response is to give in to despair. As Mitchell put it, despair is contagious and isolating. Instead, we need to look deeply, for with understanding come compassion, clarity, and peace.

A fellow Sangha member shared a poem by Desmond and Mpho Tutu that touched my heart deeply. It’s called the “Prayer Before the Prayer” and can be found in their book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path of Healing Ourselves and Our World. The first part of the poem is as follows:

I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon

I am so grateful for the spaciousness offered by this poem. To me, it seems to recognize the grace that comes from forgiveness as well as the yearning to have that grace, even if in this present moment I cannot yet forgive. I love how forgiveness springs from understanding of what Thay calls interbeing and Desmond Tutu calls Ubuntu: the interconnectedness that is the essence of our humanity.

In a May interview with yes! Magazine concerning the aftermath of Ferguson, Desmond Tutu was asked what insight he had gained into human nature after heading the South African Truth and Reconciliation process. He replied that he’d learned

That we are extraordinary beings! All of us have the capacity for the greatest possible evil. All of us! None of us can predict that under certain circumstances we would not be guilty of the most horrendous atrocities and cruelty. That is why, when they said in the newspapers that someone was a monster, I kept saying, “No. That person carried out monstrous acts.” That person can change. And, yes, it taught me that human nature can plumb the worst possible depths, and race has got nothing to do with it. And human nature can also scale the highest heights of nobility, and, again, race is not a determinant factor.

This Thursday, after our meditation period, we will read more of the poem quoted above as well as some other words by Desmond Tutu and then explore how we’ve experienced forgiveness in our own lives. I hope you can join us.


Michelle Johnson-Weider

If I choose not to forgive, I will always pay a price for it. When we are uncaring, when we lack compassion, when we are unforgiving, we don’t just suffer alone for that choice. Our family suffers, our community suffers, and ultimately our entire world suffers. We are made to exist in a delicate network of interdependence. We are sisters and brothers, whether we like it or not. To treat anyone as if they were less than human, less than a brother or a sister, no matter what they have done, is to contravene the very laws of our humanity. And those who shred the web of interconnectedness cannot escape the consequences of their actions . . .

Anger and bitterness do not just poison you, they poison all your relationships, including those with your children. I invite you to bring forgiveness into your own family. But the invitation to forgive is not an invitation to forget. Nor is it an invitation to claim that an injury is less hurtful than it really was. Nor is it a request to paper over the fissure in a relationship, to say it’s okay when it’s not. It’s not okay to be injured. It’s not okay to be abused. It’s not okay to be violated. It’s not okay to be betrayed.

But it is okay to forgive.

The invitation to forgive is an invitation to find healing and peace. In my native language, Xhosa, one asks forgiveness by saying, “Ndicel’ uxolo” (I ask for peace). The locution is quite beautiful and deeply perceptive. Forgiveness opens the door to peace between people and opens the space for peace within each person. The victim cannot have peace without forgiving. The perpetrator will not have genuine peace while unforgiven. There cannot be peace between victim and perpetrator while the injury lies between them. The invitation to forgive is an invitation to search out the perpetrator’s humanity. When we forgive, we recognize the reality that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 23, 2016