Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sept. Reflections on Healing and Forgiveness

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Sept. is a time when my soul begins to turn more inward and I am drawn to reflection after a time of outdoor activity and physical work. Significant events have happened in my life and in the life of the world I know in Sept. The shadows lengthen and past associations emerge from memory and consciousness. The recent commemoration of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, five years ago have also turned me towards reflection. I am troubled by the exploitation in the commemorations and rhetoric of grief and injury, and superficial sentimental patriotism to justify further injury and violence in the world, and to gain political advantage. These are the outward public manifestations of the "Domination Paradigm" articulated so well in our current readings by Beatrice Butreau. Rather than being entirely reactive I want to take my own revulsion at the culture of this society, of which I have been too often an adherent, towards a renewed commitment to live in the Communion Paradigm that is the Ultimate Reality that all of us are called to, to breathe Yeshua and be rooted in his Love, and to find my home ever in his belonging as the sole Reality to be lived, the gateway for followers of Yeshua to return to their true Home, in this life and the next.

Sept. is the month I was married 33 years ago. Sept. is the month my son was born. Sept 13, today, is the day my son died, 26 years ago. And I recall so vividly as I held his lifeless body in my arms, the face, the body I had come to cherish, the feeling of utter desolation, that my beloved son was gone and there was nothing I could do, no one or no thing to blame or hold responsible. I recall the sense of failure as a father that I had, that I had not protected him from disease and harm and death. In such desolation, surrender and Grace, and even healing, can happen. Since then I have come to appreciate how the world we know can disappear, the loved ones we hold dear can be taken, our very life can be gone, in an instant. To face and live this truth with courage, and trust, and to love the best we can is how healing happens.

Sadly the culture of this country has sought vengeance as a false means of healing, as a way of avoiding accepting our vulnerability. A country and a people that had nothing to do with the injuries of Sept. 11 have been targeted, (even a belated Senate Intelligence report verifies this). And for the 3 thousand Americans that died, more than a hundred thousand Iraqis have died, mostly non-combatant women and children(by report of U. of Johns Hopkins) and continue daily in the death squads and bombings of ethnic violence, in addition to another 3000 young Americans who were told they were fighting for the freedom and safety of their country, and another 27 thousand who are maimed and disabled in body, and the many tens of thousands who are maimed and disabled in soul. Americans continue to think that our losses and our injuries are the only ones that hurt, and our will, our power, our dominance, and our safety is the only imperative in the world. We forget that the whole of humankind suffers and grieves, and has a need to be safe and secure, especially those in the Middle East. And still the anger and the desire for vengeance goes on, the blaming and leveraging for political domination goes on. And so little of healing that the people need and long for is being sought.

From the mouths of children-
I saw a television program this week interviewing children whose parents died in 9/11. It was touching and revealing and instructive. What was clear to me is that these children, who had the most devastating loss of all, (what is worse than for a child to lose his or her parent?) were in their own way, quietly seeking healing. A daughter who still cries when speaking of her dad, said that she learned after a while, that the only way she could feel any thing but sadness and despair, was to do a good deed for someone else, and that could bring her happiness. A son, who missed his father terribly, decided to pursue a career similar to his father and to emulate the fine and honorable qualities his father had shown him. The children found they could share their vulnerabilities with other children who had lost a parent in the attack. Such basic wisdom shows us the path to healing (the true meaning of the word, salvation) is open to all of us, if we find a way to let go of the mind's compulsion for control. (At a later time I also found purpose for my pain in working with other parents who lost children, and finding communion of love and purpose in our common vulnerability.) Some of wives and loved ones who suffered loss on 9/11 have involved themselves in projects to promote healing and peace, including a group of widows who have travelled to Afghanistan to make common cause with widows who have lost husbands there.

The Way of Peace and Healing-
On Sept. 11 this week I walked in a silent contemplative group peace walk, in commemoration of another anniversary. On September 11, 1906, one hundred years ago, Mohandas Gandhi began what would become the non-violent, passive resistance movement for which he is so famous. It began, not in India, but in South Africa, at the time part of the British Empire, where he learned many of the skills he would later put to good use.
Gandhi called this practice Satyagraha, the Indian Movement which is born out of truth and love or nonviolence. It became the motivating ethos and strategy for the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s led by the Rev. Martin Luther King. A strange juxtaposition....that events that have led to healing, and to injury and brutality should happen on the same day. Is humankind not being presented with a choice, to choose the path of healing and peace, or to choose the path of repeating the endless cycle of injury and retribution, and counter-retribution?

Forgiveness and Restorative Justice-
Much was made on 9/11 about the strength of religious faith in helping people survive adversity, trauma, and loss. I recall at the time, the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, who has been so lionized for his leadership in crisis, speaking of how religious faith was for him and New Yorkers the great salvific force. Yet I also heard him say that his greatest wish was to personally kill Osama Bin Laden in retribution for his role in the massacre. We all wished to be safe, but violent retribution is not safety. No one in those days spoke of the words of Yeshua inviting us to a better way, or his words saying that "whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to me." And who, if not Osama Bin Laden, qualifies as "the least of these." No one said the words of Jesus as he faced his own humiliation and death, "Forgive them, Abba, for they know not what they do." No one invoked the beatitudes, "Blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the humble, blessed are you when you are persecuted." In our vulnerability and our no-thingness we find the Communion Paradigm, we enter the Kingdom and the Kingdom enters us.

I say these things not because I practice them so well, but because I need to hear them myself. I know what it is to be captive of unforgiveness and to desire retaliation. When I was a young adolescent, someone in authority brought a terrible injury to me, willfully and maliciously. I nearly lost my life in despair. It is a human, healthy, and perhaps a necessary defense to have rage in response to injury. It is not helpful, healing, or holy to hold on to the injury, and to nurture the resentment and the desire to cause injury in return. As an adult at a certain juncture in my own healing of soul it became clear that this space in my soul needed the touch of the Healing Master, and I was the one who would give permission for this touch, to open it to the Light.

To aid in this process I sought a guide and advocate and Grace brought such a person to me. She is an Episcopal priest, a woman who has made it her vocation to practice what she calls, "Restorative Justice." Restorative Justice is the companion to forgiveness. In forgiveness we eventually learn, out of compassion for ourselves and the desire to be more accessible to the love of the Beloved, we must find a way to let go of our identification with the pain and the injury, and our obsession with the perpetrator. With Restorative Justice we engage with the perpetrator in finding mutual healing and in a process of change so injuries are corrected and not repeated. Such is not always possible, but it is the inner work of the Communion Paradigm we are called to do. Prayer of the Heart opens us to the possibility.

This process led to a face to face meeting, nearly two years ago with the perpetrator of the injury that was inflicted on me. There had been preliminary meetings and actions on both parties leading to this meeting. At the meeting I was surprised to find, in a place of empowerment I found no need for retribution, but saw how the injury had done much greater harm to the one who inflicted it as it was written on his face. And I saw the suffering of a lifetime it had imposed and was moved. And I was grateful for the way Grace had brought my injury to healing and, more than that, had made it a primary instrument of my growth as beloved child of the Holy One. I was able to speak my truth directly and hear the contrition and sorrow in return. Healing had happened for both. My guide was a witness to this great Mercy of Yeshua the Christ.

In the debriefing with my guide afterward it seemed that old words "sin and salvation" had new and different meaning. I asked her how she came to do this work. She said at some time in her life, she just knew this was her calling. I hope it shall be one day recognized as a true spiritual profession of advocate and guide, a profession of healing.

The Cross and the Lotus-
In the Christian Mystical tradition the Cross is a symbol of how Divine Love and healing make the wounds of existence into the sacred wounds of Christ that become for us the means by which we learn to be a vessel of Agape, the redemptive Self-Gift of God. In Buddhism, the Lotus is the symbol of the flower of enlightenment and awakening that brings forth compassion for all beings. It is rooted and born in the mud of the pain and suffering of existence, that becomes transformed through spiritual practice into unitive experience. Our brother, Thich Nhat Hanh, has so beautifully expressed this in his own life. He admits to periods of despair, depression, and post-traumatic stress in his life from the violence and loss of the Vietnam war. Out of this suffering he has grown through his spiritual practice the lotus of profound compassion and teachings to help people heal and find peace.

What I and countless others have experienced on an individual level has relevance for the community and global level. When nations, peoples, and religions become so tired and spent with the suffering of endless cycles of violence and retribution, then perhaps the way of forgiveness and healing shall be the way of all. When humankind, out of profound suffering, can open to the grace of contrition and conversion, then shall healing be possible. The mystic tradition across the globe can lead the way. I have practiced in both the mystic traditions of Christianity and Buddhism. Mystics have the goal and the experience of learning to abide and live from the Communion Paradigm. A great teacher I encountered on the way, Thomas Hand S.J., proclaimed a simple truth among a group of retreatants I was with, "The God experience is an experience of Oneness, and fully accepting and living the consequences." This is true whether one names the Ultimate as God, Brahmin, Dharmakaya, Allah, Ela, or Allaha, Grandfather, Grandmother, or XYZen. In this Oneness there is no self, and no other, there is just the One Life, the One Self, in whom we all find our belonging. The Divine belongs to no person, no religion, no nationality, but we all belong to the Unity from which all things arise. In this Unity, this One Life, we can learn, in the words of Paul, "to live, and move, and have our being." As Jesus said in his promise to us, "
On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)

May that day be today, and every day, to the end of our days. May the Grace and healing of Yeshua's love be ours always, and may we continue in the work of healing our soul and the soul of humankind.
Sept.Blessings to all,
Bill Ryan