‘Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev!!‘
So goes the famous line from President Reagan. It was an exciting time. It was a time of hope. Shortly after this I went with a friend to this very spot and witnessed the now partly demolished wall. Today there is much talk of building a wall. Once again it would be to keep people out. There was once a wall in my city, in Belfast. Ironically enough it was called the ‘peace wall’. As it happened it did not do much for peace, though it did help keep us apart. We realise now, whatever about our feelings then, that a ‘peace’ built on keeping people apart is not
peace at all.
This week saw thousands attend the funeral of Martin McGuiness. There were many tributes paid to him and of course at the same time it was a week that opened old wounds. I was shocked to hear Lord Tebbit’s comments when he said that he hoped Martin McGuinness is ‘parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity’. Perhaps I should not have been shocked given how close the peer and his wife came to death in the Brighton bombing. We must also remember that Norman Tebbit’s wife, Margaret has lived all these years with the severe injuries she received that day. This has been a very hard week for many victims of what we call the ‘Troubles’. However Lord Tebbit’s comments were not shared by Jo Berry, whose father, the Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry was killed in the bombing. Nor was it the response of Colin and Wendy Parry who lost their son, Tim, in the Warrington bomb. It is very difficult to forgive, especially when we continue to suffer every day because of the actions of others. Yet the call of Jesus to forgive is very strong.
There were other voices this week that had a big effect on me, including Ian Paisley Junior, and his mother Eileen, Lady Paisley. Their comments were warm, balanced and gracious. However most memorable for me was the speech of President Clinton. For all of us who carry a deep hurt Clinton’s words present a real challenge. Commenting on the legacy of Martin McGuinness he said, ‘ The only thing that happened was that he expanded the definition of ‘us’ and shrunk the definition of ‘them’. This is a powerful and thought provoking definition of peace-making, something which we are all called to do. Clinton urges us to finish the work begun by peacemakers. As I write the Stormont talks seem to be failing which is indeed a frightening prospect. There is no alternative to democracy. There is no alternative to peace. There are no winners in the return to barricades and blown up bridges. The recurring roadblock that has the power to derail everything seems to be a lack of forgiveness. Could forgiveness be that potent, or to put it another way could a lack of forgiveness be so paralysing, so destructive?
In my experience forgiveness takes time. It could have any number of false starts. It is painful. I have wrestled with it. To begin with it is fragile. Like a new born foal it is on long, gangly and somewhat rickety legs. Easy knocked over, it often is. It is very prone to discouragement and can quickly be stifled with the remembrance of past pain. Just when you think you have it, it can quickly elude you. I thought a few times that I was ready to walk its path only for me to balk at the last minute. Eventually forgiveness takes a certain courage. Personally I am not convinced that deep damage can be forgiven without at least a modicum of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The other thing I have learned is that forgiveness is not a box you tick. Done and dusted. In fact we need to periodically revisit the hurt and top up on the forgiveness. We should not be surprised at the notion of needing to return to forgiveness precisely because from time to time the old hurts will reassert themselves. Wounds, especially deep wounds, are prone to reopen, or at least ooze a little, needing attention from time to time.
However the most important thing to say about forgiveness is the great prize that it is. When I have managed to open up to God’s grace and receive from the Holy Spirit the necessary gifts, including courage, that allow me to forgive the other it has been real joy. When I have managed to forgive, and I note again it is an ongoing process, I have experienced a real peace. When I let go of anger, bitterness and resentment it is no surprise that I experience a new freedom. To be resentful and embittered is to be a slave. One of the great benefits or graces that comes from developing a deep personal relationship with Jesus is freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of
living in fear. It is, in my experience, also true that one of the great roadblocks, often going unnoticed, to having any sense of joy or peace lies in the resentful, unforgiving heart. As the song from the movie Frozen says, ‘Let it go!’
J MC DONALD. 27. 03. 17