The Other I

April 22, 2014

“Forgive us as…”

For Roman Catholics, gaining forgiveness for one’s sins is fairly easy.  One pops into a dark confessional, tells the priest who is sitting behind a screen and is bound by life-long secrecy, what one has done, and forgiveness is granted, usually for a small penance, such as saying several short prayers.

In theory, this recognition in confession that we are all sinners should be the motivation for forgiving others.  In one of the great prayers of Christianity, the Our Father,  the petitioner asks God “to forgive us our sins as we forgive others.”  But learning to forgive others, especially for real injustice and injury, is rarely so simple as getting forgiveness for oneself.

Last week,  something that happened at a scheduled hanging in Iran is one of the most incredible stories of forgiveness I have ever heard.

Maryam Hosseinzadeh, standing on a chair, slaps Balal.Seven years ago a 17-year-old boy was killed with a kitchen knife in a street fight in Iran.  Four days ago, the young man who had killed him was scheduled to be hanged.  There was a crowd gathered to witness the public execution, including the mother of the young man about to be hanged, and the parents of the murder victim.   The prisoner was brought out blind-folded, and the noose placed around his neck.  The mother of the victim then asked for a stool on which she could stand to reach the prisoner.  She reached over, slapped him hard, and said “Forgiven!”  She and the victim’s father then took the noose from around the neck of the prisoner and he was released.

There are photographs of the mothers of the released prisoner and of the victim embracing.

This story seems to have been in all the international news media.  But I’ve not written about it because it has left me speechless.  As far back as the Greeks, we have myths teaching us that the poison of unforgiven acts can last for centuries, even for millennium.   Today in trouble spots around the world we see this tearing nations apart.  I thought I had long understood that the only way to grow beyond injustice and betrayal was to forgive, to let go of the bitterness and anger.   And I have seen people learn to let go of the desire for revenge and recompense, to forgive.

But I have never known anyone who has achieved  it moments before one might arguably say she was about to achieve what some might have called ” justice”  for the murder of her son.

I will not pretend that I’m sure I could do it.

But I do know that if humanity is going to survive, we must learn the lesson from this mother.

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10 Comments »

  1. stuck a chord with me – forgive us our debts and we forgive others – so many things i have trouble letting go – the two men ostensibly behind last year’ boston marathon bombing folks taping razor blades on playground equipment (a new happening in new york) never mind the constant drain of daily oh so minor diminishments some say there is a difference between forgiving and forgetting but why remember – does it prevent evil? if living in the present is the paragon, what, then, of the past and future? i remember little of the scriptures but one that has remained with me – and i know i am badly remembering it here, behold the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin, yet i say until you that not even solomon in all his glory is not arrayed like one of these. but emotion – responding – responsibility for self and others – isn’t that the human condition?

    btw i do think that catholics add something to sacrament of penance – not only does one have to recite ones transgressions but there has to be (1) remorse and (2) resolve to do better – i think – but then, i am no expert in this either.

    Comment by kateritek — April 22, 2014 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

    • I don’t think forgetting is a mark of true forgiving. Of course, forgetting about fairly inconsequential things – the man who ran his cart into my back in the supermarket last week and didn’t even say “excuse me” is not worth brooding about. But some things are unforgettable. And some things should not be forgotten. How can one forget the murder of one’s child? Wouldn’t it be a terrible thing if we forgot about the Holocaust?

      For me, the truly great acts of forgiveness are not marked by forgetting. Rather,what is outstanding is that forgiveness is not marked by bitterness or anger. The injured person refuses to be a victim, and sometimes even learns to turn what they have learned through the experience of abuse or injustice to help others. If my primary and enduring response is anger, then ultimately the abuser has won.

      As for the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance, I can’t really say I speak with truly authentic knowledge. My experience of confession was spending ten minutes or so trying to identify some trivia to confess, which was then assigned a Hail Mary or two before absolution was granted. Oh, and the priest more than once took the opportunity in the confessional to ask if I’d considered a religious vocation. It was never an experience of dealing with what I would consider true guilt.

      What do you think?

      Comment by theotheri — April 23, 2014 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

      • then your experience of the Sacrament of Confession is invalid. Confession requires contrition and the firm decision never to commit the same mistake or sin again. It also requires humility, to acknowledge before God that you are a sinner. since you are a former nun, i was expecting that you have great love for the Sacraments or at least you understood the Sacraments. but the way i see it, you are just like the rest of the anti-Catholic people who wish to portray Catholicism in a bad angle. you never really understood the Sacrament of Confession. maybe that’s the reason why you left the convent in the first place. you never really understood that you are making a vow, a commitment to God.

        Comment by len — November 18, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

      • Thank you for sharing your perspective.

        Comment by theotheri — November 18, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

  2. This is a translation by Neil Douglas-Klotz, an Aramaic scholar of the Our Father taken from the Aramaic:

    O Cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration,
    soften the ground of our being.
    And carve out a space within us
    where your presence can abide.
    Fill us with your creativity so that we may be
    empowered to bear the fruit of your mission.
    Let each of our actions bear fruit
    in accordance with your desire.
    Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share
    what each being needs to grow and flourish.
    Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us,
    as we release others from the entanglement
    of past mistakes.
    Do not let us be seduced by that which would
    divert us from our true purpose, but illuminate
    the opportunities of the present moment.
    For you are the ground and fruitful vision,
    the birth, power and fulfillment,
    as all is gathered and made whole once again.
    Amen!

    as religious for 10 years, i see jesus as an ego-ideal – something to achieve in order to maximize “me” that enhances not only myself, but the world in which i live = for whatever period is given me. living in pettiness, hatred, retribution etc diminishes me, makes my time here unhappy, unfruitful. if one could be in full bloom, why should i not do everything possible to do this – no matter that i assuredly fail time after time. if that disappoints others, angers others, i would think that is something that merits dialogue, at least if communion should ever be attained.

    Comment by kateritek — November 18, 2014 @ 11:43 pm | Reply

    • I have read this translation, comparing it line by line with the Our Father as we say it in English, and find it profoundly moving. Thank you so much for sharing.

      Comment by theotheri — November 19, 2014 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  3. How did I miss this posting?

    Thanks so much for sharing that story, Terry. Even the mothers of children killed by terrorist bombings don’t want to see other mothers’ children die for their loss — I mean the women who aspire to something better than vengeance, which is still the predominent idea of justice in the world as far as I can see.

    Revenge seems to be based on the economic model — forgiveness of payment due — not the other way around as used to seem intuitive to me. Heinrich Boell has a wonderful short story which taught me this when I read it many years ago, just as Isaac Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” for me incorporates all the best of both the Jewish and Christian (and, probably, Muslim as well) traditions.

    But that real-life story you brought to our attention also says it all, doesn’t it.

    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — November 19, 2014 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

    • Do you remember the name of the particular short story of Boell that you are talking about? I’d like to read it. Terry

      Comment by theotheri — November 19, 2014 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  4. No, I don’t. But if I can find the collection I’ll look it up.

    It hit me right between the eyes the first time I read it. The second time, a few years ago, less so. It would be interesting to see how much of my original impression you share when you read it.

    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — November 21, 2014 @ 5:01 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, Tom. I would like to read it. But I know there is a limit just how much effort the search is worth. So though I appreciate your looking, keep it in perspective! And happy Thanksgiving. Terry

      Comment by theotheri — November 24, 2014 @ 9:40 pm | Reply


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