Stormont vacuum creates space for peace and reconciliation

Churches should step in and give voice to imperative for forgiveness

“Forgiving others is an act not only directed to those we forgive. It is also an act of freeing ourselves.”

“Forgiving others is an act not only directed to those we forgive. It is also an act of freeing ourselves.”

 

Forgiveness is good for you. And what I mean by that is that it is literally good for you. I read about this recently. Forgiveness is good for your health. There is a multitude of articles that testify to this.

If you forgive you are less likely to have a heart attack, you’ll sleep better and your immune system will be strengthened.

When it comes to forgiveness, reading about it doesn’t match up to the actual doing of it. So, while the theory of forgiveness is great, the lived experience of it is much more so.

Of course, forgiveness, like love, can only be freely given. It cannot be forced, and it should not be insisted upon

To experience the forgiveness of those we have wronged is a privilege, isn’t it? Just sit for a moment and call to mind a time when someone has forgiven a wrong thing you have done. Being forgiven can bring new life to us and new life to relationships where before there was sadness and the dying of relationship. It can really humble us and make us feel loved. And when offering forgiveness to those who have wronged us – as difficult as this may seem or be we enable them to feel this way too.

Freeing ourselves

Forgiving others is an act not only directed to those we forgive. It is also an act of freeing ourselves, because to hold on to hurt is to give that hurt power over us. To let it go is to walk lightly. To hold on to hurt, sadly, often only serves to increase our own hurt much more than anyone else’s. To let it go is both an act of generosity to another and an act of self-care.

A paramilitary mural is seen on a wall in East Belfast in Northern Ireland this week. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters
A paramilitary mural on a wall in East Belfast in Northern Ireland in 2015. File photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

This is not an easy thing to do, of course. Some have been wronged in massive ways. In these situations, the act of forgiveness can appear almost impossible. But sometimes the bigger the act of forgiveness the more liberating the experience is.

Of course, forgiveness, like love, can only be freely given. It cannot be forced, and it should not be insisted upon. Often it comes only after some considerable time and sometimes it never comes.

People are not to be judged because of this. What is true of one individual person is often true of a whole group of people. Belfast (and where you live) is a group of individual people thrown together and many people have been wronged in the city and in Northern Ireland generally.

We see that there are sources of massive hurt and we can see that for many people the issue of whether to forgive is a real-life one.

Surely it is high time for the churches to see the political vacuum as sacred space into which to step boldly and give voice to the imperative for forgiveness

Given that forgiveness is good for us, I wonder what would it be like for Belfast to experience forgiveness? Would those of us in the city, as a body of people, experience the collective health benefits that individuals experience when they forgive? I believe we would.

I believe forgiveness would evoke compassion and empathy that would in turn lead to better decision-making and progress towards true peace and reconciliation.

Leadership

Taking steps towards forgiveness will require leadership. But, in the political vacuum we have been experiencing here for over two years where is this leadership to come from?

A member of the Greater Ardoyne Residents Coalition GARC expresses his opinion while waiting for the Twelfth of July Orange Order parade to come down the Crumlin Road in Belfast. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Forgiveness required on all sides of the conflict: A member of the Greater Ardoyne Residents Coalition protests against a Twelfth of July Orange Order parade about to come down the Crumlin Road in Belfast in 2016. File photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Surely it is high time for the churches to see the political vacuum as sacred space into which to step boldly and give voice to the imperative for forgiveness. Indeed, forgiveness is hardwired into the language and standpoint of true followers of Christ.

The seventh 4 Corners Festival in Belfast, co-founded by Rev Steve Stockman and Fr Martin Magill, opens tomorrow. It is a cross-community inter-church arts festival that over 11 days celebrates and challenges our city through the prism of Christian thought.

It is no coincidence that it always takes place a matter of days after the annual week of prayer for Christian unity.

The theme this year is “scandalous forgiveness” and during it I am sure we will hear the call for us all to explore forgiveness from many angles in the knowledge that forgiveness is fuel that lights the fire of love which will set the world ablaze.

Jim Deeds is an author and a member of the board of directors of the 4 Corners Festival in Belfast

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