Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The World's Wounds and Ours

Nouwen brings Glaser a cross from El Salvador.

Rarely but occasionally I re-read my own books to see how well they hold up. Because I’m attending an international conference on Henri Nouwen in June and will be leading a weekend course on Nouwen (open to the public) in September, I am re-reading Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy (2002, 2010), which I am offering as a gift to donors to this blog of $100 or pledges of $10 monthly.

Given what is going on in the world these days, the U.S. presidential race, the damage many of us have suffered at the hands of our spiritual communities, and my personal involvement as part of a support team for a friend in recovery, this meditation for Day Fifty-Eight seems particularly relevant. Each med begins with a quote from Henri and is followed by a brief prayer.

¼We are part of a chain of wounds and needs that reach far beyond our own memories and aspirations.”
Henri Nouwen, The Road to Peace, edited by John Dear

This posthumous book is a gift from Henri’s friend and justice activist John Dear. I’m grateful that this manuscript is now available. When talking about our various book projects, Henri had once told me about an unfinished book on peacemaking that had seemed to him to have passed its time. Not true, as it turns out. Our quote from the book today still speaks strongly to our journey on the road to peace, whether individually or internationally.

Many in the West could not anticipate what would happen when the Soviet Union unraveled. An authoritarian government had held in check centuries-old animosities among peoples who, unshackled, began to fight amongst themselves. We witnessed in horror atrocities unleashed by age-old religious and political divisions. Northern Ireland and the Middle East might have prepared us for generations-old wounding and war, but even in those places and maybe especially in those places, we do not begin to understand the passions and the pathos.

And now the West faces religious fanatics of Islam, uncharacteristic of the religion as a whole, who hate us for our influence. And though we react with innocence, like a deer caught in the headlights, our ignorance of resistance to our far-reaching domination of the world must be overcome and the sources of the resistance better understood. Just as our personal relationships benefit by discerning a loved one’s wounds so as not to hurt them there let alone exploit their vulnerabilities, so international relationships benefit from careful discernment of old wounds and vulnerabilities.

Self-interest alone cannot be our guide in any relationship of integrity; rather our interest should be in that which is mutually beneficial.

But Henri points out that such altruism is difficult to achieve even in our personal relationships. When we are preoccupied with our own wounds, we are less able to recognize that others are wounded as well, especially those who have wounded us. Whatever type of violence caused the wounds—emotional, spiritual, sexual, physical—has its antecedents: violence begets violence.

Maybe that’s how we can make sense of original sin, or the concept of the sin of parents being visited upon their children generations later.

The only thing that stops us from recycling violence is forgiveness. Forgiveness to me is “for giving up” justifiable retribution. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye¼.’ But I say to you,¼if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also¼” (Matthew 5:38-39). Dag Hammarsk├Âld, who died working for peace as General Secretary of the United Nations, put it this way: “Forgiving is forgetting in spite of remembering.”

Admittedly, it’s hard enough to do this in the personal realm. Even more difficult to see this as a realistic solution in the political realm. Tending the beam in our own eye, the lack of forgiveness in our personal lives, maybe we can better see to take out the beam (the metaphor of splinter doesn’t work here!) in the world’s eye. We must try to forgive our parents, our siblings, our children, as well as our spiritual families, along our road toward peacemaking. Then we may address the wounds of peoples with greater experience and sensitivity.

Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Forgive me, for I know not what I do.

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  1. It would seem to be appropriate to recall the verse Trump professes to be his favorite from the Bible -- "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

  2. Thanks, Chris. I never thought being unable to forgive would be an issue for me. When it happened and as i never give up the idea that it would be best for all---i am trying to learn lessons about forgiveness. I try to picture what things will look like when it happens in this particular situation. I am also more aware of when and where lack of forgiveness must be at the base of some problem in world i just cannot understand---and then i do understand it is just like with me. I was given The Wounded Healer by Nouwen by a counselor in 1976-77.

    1. You'll remember a more recent of my reflections takes on a different understanding of forgiveness:
      As you know, I don't have the answers--or better yet, I have multiple answers! You are an excellent example of finding your own truth, Chuck. Thanks for writing, as always!