Storytelling on Forgiveness

Friends from six faith traditions were invited to bring a story reflecting something of what that faith teaches about forgiveness and as we sat in a circle listening we were moved, we laughed –  and sometimes we bit our finger nails.

Caroline Sargentson brought us a Jewish story about a Rebbe with a twist in its tail; Mary Hale’s Buddhist story, set in a time of rival claims for kingship, spoke of murder and revenge and abstaining from revenge. Father Kevin re-told the story of the Prodigal Son from the heart of the Christian tradition and Fatema Mansouri read from the Quran and explained how the Prophet Muhammad exemplified mercy to his own people after they failed, disastrously, to carry out his orders in battle. Georgina Long of the Brahma Kumaris related how the movement’s founder, Baba Lekhraj, forgave someone who broke into his room with the intention of killing him and Jo Winsloe  – organiser of the Forgiveness Project’s exhibition showing at the Centre – held us all with a Sufi story of Berber trickery with a wise and happy ending.

What we discovered is that the theme of forgiveness has cultural and religious overtones.   Forgiveness is not something that comes easily or can easily be granted. The Jewish story emphasised that forgiveness is a process and can only start if the culprit has acknowledged their wrongdoing and wants to amend for their actions.  Moreover an act of wrongdoing may well reflect a wrong attitude of mind in relation to the world and the community; that needs to be challenged and changed before forgiveness can take place.  Interestingly one speaker spoke of how their experience in prisons demonstrated that for many prisoners the guilt and shame of committing a wrongdoing was so great that such a transformation and change was very difficult.  The Buddhist story brought out how forgiveness is about trying to break a cycle of violence and revenge violence, something which is picked up in many of the stories included in the Forgiveness Project Exhibition.  The Christian story of the Prodigal Son is well known; the focus of the story is on the compassionate and merciful love shown by the father towards the younger son who had so hurt him.  But for some of us it was the treatment of the elder brother which is difficult to grasp; after all he has done nothing wrong; why should the younger son be so celebrated.  Our Muslim story demonstrated the role of the Prophet as a model of forgiveness, and also touched on theme of violence and revenge and how to break this; similarly with the example set by the Founder of the Brahma Kumaris.  The Sufi story brought out how the development of a relationship between both the criminal and victim can lead to growth and transformation; something again demonstrated by many of the stories of the Forgiveness Project.

In our discussion we touched on how forgiveness takes time and is a process, and on the fact that there is no formula.  It is difficult and may be in itself a gift not given to everyone.

We also talked about the process of storytelling, and whilst accepting that there are often universal themes , we agreed that understanding the cultural and religious narrative from which the story is taken may add to the richness and depth of the story told.  In this sense, just as with sharing religious texts, it is important to acknowledge our differences in background and outlook, as well as that which we share in common.