Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “forgiveness”

Anatomy of exile

This month’s synchroblog, in the week in which Lent begins, is on Experiences in the wilderness. March Synchroblog – Experiences In The Wilderness – 3/9/2011 | synchroblog:

During the season of Lent we are reminded that all of us experience wilderness times in our lives – times of searching, of mourning, of anticipating, of waiting, of watching, of unknowing, of struggling, of preparation. Join us during the season of Lent for this month’s synchroblog as we reflect and share insights and thoughts about “Experiences In The Wilderness”.

As I look back on my life I can recall several experiences that could be said to be experiences of the wilderness, some literal, some figurative.

I won’t go into all the details of all these now; for the sake of those who might be interested, I’ve linked a couple of them to other posts that give some more details.

The first, flight into exile in the UK, was not a real wilderness experience, though it felt like it at the time. I had finished my BA degree at the University of Natal, and was working as a bus driver in Johannesburg to try to raise money for postgraduate study in the UK. I needed to be in the UK at the end of September, but in January a man from the Security Police phoned me and wanted to see me. I thought he was either going to give me a banning order, or confiscate my passport, so I scarpered the same night, driving to Bulawayo and catching a plane to London from there. When I got back two-and-a-half years later they came and confiscated my passport. It wasn’t really exile, but it felt like it because of the sudden and unexpected parting from friends and family and arriving in a strange country with no money and no job. I felt, in a very mild way, what refugees must feel like.

The last, churchlessness, was when we left the Anglican Church in 1985, and asked to join the Orthodox Church, which entailed writing a letter to the bishop. The bishop referred the letter to the Pope, who said he must refer it to the Holy Synod, but then died before the Holy Synod could consider it. The Anglican Church sent a lawyer after me, who unfairly and unjustly accused me of stealing church property, and was extremely nasty about it. So we were left in a kind of ecclesiastical wilderness, and at times both Val and I entertained thoughts of going up to the railway line that runs over the road from us and throwing ourselves under a passing train. Neither of us told the other about these thoughts until long afterwards; it was definitely a spiritual wilderness experience.

After being deported from Namibia I read a book called The anatomy of exile: a semantic and historical study, and though I can now remember very little of what it said, it made me reflect on the experience of exile, and to realise that what I missed most was not so much places, as people.

But in Lent, and especially in the first week of Lent, we are reminded that all our earthly experiences of exile are actually pointers to a larger exile, and the hymns of the church focus on the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.

In Western theology there is the idea of dwelling in the Land of Unlikeness, where we have lost the likeness of God in which we were created.

In the Orthodox Church we have the picture of of Adam weeping at the gates of Paradise and lamenting:

The Word of God the Father,
begotten before the ages,
in the latter times willed to be incarnate of the Virgin
and endured crucifixion unto death.
He has saved mortal man//
by His Resurrection.

v. (6) If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You.

Tone 6 (from the Lenten Triodion)

The Lord took a handful of dust from the earth.
He breathed into it, and created me, a living man.
He made me lord and master of all things on earth;
truly I enjoyed the life of the Angels.
But Satan the deceiver tempted me in the guise of a serpent;
I ate the forbidden fruit and forfeited the glory of God.
Now I have been delivered to the earth through death.//
O my compassionate Lord, call me back to Eden!

v. (5) For Your name’s sake I have waited for You, O Lord, my soul has waited for Your word; my soul has hoped on the Lord.

When the Enemy tempted me,
I disobeyed Your command, O Lord.
I exchanged the glory of my mortal body for shame and nakedness.
Now I must wear garments of skins and fig-leaves;
I am condemned to eat the bread of bitter hardship in the sweat of my
The earth is cursed and brings forth thorns and husks for me.
O Lord, You took on flesh from the Virgin in the fullness of time;//
call me back and restore me to Eden!

v. (4) From the morning watch until night, from the morning watch, let Israel hope on the Lord!

O Paradise, garden of delight and beauty,
dwelling-place made perfect by God,
unending gladness and eternal joy,
the hope of the Prophets and the home of the saints,
by the music of your rustling leaves beseech the Creator of all
to open the gates which my sins have closed,
that I may partake of the Tree of Life and Grace,//
which was given to me in the beginning!

v. (3) For with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is plenteous redemption, and He will deliver Israel from all his iniquities.
This post is part of a Synchroblog, in which several bloggers post articles on the same general theme. This month’s theme is “Experiences in the Wilderness”, and here are some other blog posts on the theme.

Reconciliation and forgiveness

Yesterday was the Day of Reconciliation, a public holiday in South Africa. Perhaps it is one of those “happy holidays” that Americans talk about. And today I came across a quotation from Laurens van der Post’s book Venture to the interior, which I first read more than 40 years ago. He wrote about the suffering in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902:

It has always been one of the more frightening ironies of Afrikaner life that people like my father, who with Smuts and Botha had fought and actually suffered in the war, could forgive and begin anew, whereas others, alive today, who were never in the heart of the conflict, can still find it so hard to forgive an injury that was not even done to them, and how can there be any real beginning without forgiveness?

I noticed something similar in my experience with War Crimes officers, who had neither suffered internment under the Japanese, nor even fought against them. They were more revengeful and bitter about our treatment and our suffering in prison than we were ourselves.

I have so often noticed that the suffering which is most difficult, if not impossible to forgive, is unreal, imagined suffering. There is no power on earth like imagination, and the worst, most obstinate grievances are imagined ones.

That passage struck me at the time, and I commented on it in my journal when I first read the book, on 4 June 1966

This seems to touch on the core of a rather big question of human behaviour, One is that we so often find it easier to forgive those who injure us than those who injure others; and this imagination business. Reading about life in Nazi Germany conjures up all sorts of horrors, but they are imaginary horrors, I have never experienced them. In South Africa there are probably the same horrors, but one gets used to them. This is why so many people emphatically deny that South Africa is a police state, because it does not fit their mental image of a police state. But Germans probably felt the same 30 years ago.

I seem to recollect Trevor Huddleston in his book Naught for your comfort saying how much harder it was to forgive things done to other people, because one can only imagine how they feel. And John Aitchison, questioning the value of Liberal Party rural meetings, because you know that you go to encourage them in the face of SB intimidation, but by going you only encourage the SB to step up their campaign of intimidation. But it is a selfish martyrdom attitude — a sort of “I alone can bear the suffering” kick. But they too must bear their share of suffering — we are not the ones to deny it to them. It is their privilege as members of God’s kingdom.

It is so also among the Jews. The ones who keep harping on the Nazi concentration camps are not the ones who suffered there, but those whose relatives did. In a way this is the root of altruism — a willingness to suffer for others. But it can also be selfish and self-glorifying.

That is one reason I am sceptical about demands that people should apologise today for deeds committed by other people in generations past, such as, for example, the demand by Anglican bishops that Tony Blair should apologise for the slave trade.

The same applies, of course, to recent conflicts in the Balkans, which still have repercussions today in the demand for independence for Kosovo. One of the best comments on that is at Notes from a Common-place Book: Remember the Balkans?. Perhaps the Balkans need a Day of Reconciliation.

There is another entry from my journal, though this time more recent, from an Orthodox mission conference in Athens on 6 May 2000:

The next speaker was Dr Tarek Mitri of the Patriarchate of Antioch, who spoke on Orthodoxy and other religions. He said that the many conspiratorial interpretations of the role of other religions blur the role of Orthodoxy.

These interpretations were based on the conservatism of survival, and aggravated fears of seeing Orthodoxy marginalised. Globalisation meant that there was pressure for uniformity. National government structures are less able to make decisions. Orthodoxy and Eastern culture are regarded as archaisms in the West — there is talk of “ancestral hatred”, but it is not “ancestral hatred” that is the cause of war, it is war that is the cause of “ancestral hatred”. If the past does not meet the needs of the present, another past can be constructed. The more people look alike, the
more they wish to preserve their differences, and the smaller the differences, the more important they become. We are caught between the voices of homogenisation and those who advocate religion as a marker of nationalism and ethnic identity.

He suggested some preliminaries for a theological consideration of these things:

(1) respect for other religions;
(2) listen and learn;
(3) give thanks for manifestations of the Logos in other religious traditions;
(4) Pray over insurmountable differences.

The mystery of the Trinity as the answer for those who think that the Father has no Son, and those who think that the Son inevitably kills the Father. Orthodox Christians and Muslims need to seek ways of preventing the use of religious symbols in support of conflicts. Human rights: despite emphasis on their universality, they can be applied selectively. Human rights abuses are emphasised when the victims are members of our own communities, but ignored when others are victims. The contemporary discourse about religion drawing bloody borders between people is a self-fulfilling prophecy, which Orthodox Christians must resist.

It is not ancient hatreds that cause war: it is war that causes ancient hatreds. And we can overcome ancient hatreds by forgiveness and reconciliation.

"As we forgive those…"

Sunday 18th February 2007
* The Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of Bliss
* Sunday of Forgiveness

Today is Forgiveness Sunday, also known as Cheesefare Sunday, the last day before the Great Fast of Lent. In the Orthodox Church Lent begans at Vespers, around sunset. During the service, the colours are changed from gold to purple, the music changes to a minor key, and the first act, to begin the fast, is when the members of the congregation prostrate themselves before one another, and ask forgiveness of each other, and as they rise, say, “I forgive you”. So the first day of Lent is known as Clean Monday.

The Scrivener: “As we forgive those…” has posted a very suitable article for the day, and one that is worth reading in preparation for Vespers.

And so I ask any readers of this blog whom I may have offended, knowingly or in ignorance, please forgive me.

It is also the Sunday of Cheesefare — the last day we eat cheese, butter and other dairy products, and eggs before Pascha, fifty days hence. We said goodbye to meat last week. You can have little idea of what Easter eggs mean if you have not abstained from eating them during the fast.

What to do with old dictators

Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death while PW Botha is offered a state funeral and flags fly at half-mast.

Is that the difference between Muslim values and Christian values, or what?

In South Africa there is much talk of the need for moral regeneration, and every now and then there are reports in the media about religious leaders and political leaders, and even sometimes business leaders deploring the “culture of violence” and calling for the teaching of values.

There is a problem in teaching values, say, in schools in a multicultural society, where some are quick to complain about other peoples’ values being forced down their throats. But it is at times like this that one realises that ubuntu is alive and well, and that one of the core Christian values of love of enemies come to the fore, and that projects to promote values, like Heartlines, are not just whistling in the dark.

PW Botha was not in the first rank of dictators of the 20th century. He was not up there with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. He belonged a bit lower down the list, along with Pinochet of Chile, Franco of Spain, Mussolini of Italy, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and a few others. Unlike many, he did not create the evil system he presided over, he inherited it from his predecessors, and his contribution was to prop it up and prolong it with ever more brutal repression of those who opposed it. There were signs, just before his fall from power, of his willingness to change, when he invited Nelson Mandela, the jailed leader of the opposition, to tea at Tuynhuis, his official residence. But, unlike Adriaan Vlok, his minister of police, he showed no indication of repentance or remorse.

Nevertheless, the South African government, including President Thabo Mbeki, showed the kind of magnanimity that indicates the enormous difference between the values of the new South Africa they are trying to create, and those of the old South Africa that PW Botha was trying to preserve. It’s at times that these that I feel proud to be a South African.

And I wonder what would happen if these values had been (or were to be) applied in the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq, and Israel/Lebanon/Palestine instead of raining down bombs on people?

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Apologise, apologise, apologise

A couple of days ago I commented on the mixed reaction to Adriaan Vlok’s apology to Frank Chikane for the way he had treated him when he was Minister of Police. My comment was to the effect that it was better for people to apologise for their own misdeeds than for those of other people a long time in the past.

And so my attention was drawn to demands that the Roman Pope apologise for the Inquisition, and that led me to this site, Why Shouldn’t the Pope Apologize for the Inquisition?

It seems odd.

Why does it seem so fashionable to demand that some people should apologise for other people’s sins, usually in the remote past, where both perpetrators and victims are dead? And yet there is so little sign of apology by living people for their misdeeds against the living, and some even find such things offensive on the rare occasions when it does happen?

Yesterday I went to the archives and had a look at my Security Police file; that was before Vlok was in charge, of course, but it does illustrate the kind of thing he was apologising for. I wouldn’t expect him to apologise for that, any more than I would expect him to apologise for the atrocities of Julius Caesar or Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. Apologies from Kurt Dahlmann, Frans van Zyl and Jurgen Meinert (newspaper editors and proprietor of Windhoek) might be appropriate, though.

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