Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Sunflower

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind."
1 Corinthians 13:11

Still working on it.

When I was child, if someone hit me, I hit them back. If someone took something from me, I took something from them. Rough justice in the adolescent, formative years. The actions correspond to the way we are naturally wired - perfect worldly logic in a worldly world.

We're not supposed to act that way? We're not supposed to react in kind? And on top of that, we're supposed to forgive? You've got to be kidding! How inhuman!

But that is exactly what we are called to do. A priest one Sunday, in a short homily quoted Luke 4:11 and said that when we forgive, we are as close to God as we will ever get. Forgiveness is a divine act. That sentiment is not limited to the Gospels. If you open any part of the New Testament, it would be hard not to trip over the concept of forgiveness. To miss it would be like putting on a Beatles CD and not hearing music.

Always knew I was supposed to forgive and always struggled with it. Grudgingly saw it as a duty. My main obstacle is the fact that I tend to be a very judgmental person and judgment blocks the view to forgiveness like a high stone wall that has to be scaled to get to forgiveness and a sense of God. Wife Donna's church, Hope, had a wonderful service one Easter where everyone was given some "post it" notes to write a personal sin/failing and place it on a very large wooden cross. Everyone was being very thoughtful, mustering sagacity for the right word. Not me. Without hesitation, I wrote the word "judgment." If there were a race to that Cross, I would have won. Nice to know I'm good at something.

Hopefully I am better at forgiveness after all these years. Practice may not make perfect, but repetition gives birth to improvement. Some days the stone wall is almost insurmountable and composed of coarse, craggy rocks easily slipped on. Spanning can be difficult, but over the years the routes up the wall have become more familiar and some of the stones have lost their sharp edges. Sometimes, the rocks move and I have to retrace, but as long as I'm moving forward I think I'm doing OK. I don't think God looks for perfection, just effort. Once I scale the wall, I look for guidance and most times prayer works. Enough about me.

If you have the same problem I do, you may find a book I've just finished interesting; "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness" by Simon Wiesenthal. It is one of the most unique books I have ever read. It came out in 1979 and a revised edition in 1997. In the original, the entire story is printed on the outside cover. The interior pages are full of commentaries about a question the author asks, "What would you do?"

To give a synopsis, the author was a prisoner in a Concentration Camp in World War II. A nun singled him out and brought him to the bed of a dying German soldier, a lapsed Catholic. The soldier told Simon of a horrific war crime and his part in it - he asked for forgiveness. Simon said nothing and left. The soldier died. After the war, in 1946, Simon went to visit the soldier's mother. She talked about her son and how proud she was of him. Simon said nothing and left.

Simon Wiesenthal went on to become the famed "Nazi Hunter" based in Vienna, dedicating his life to bringing Germans responsible for the "Final Solution" to justice. He did his work with documents and information. Perhaps more Mr. Peepers than James Bond, but he was so successful that he retired when he felt all the guilty were caught - so he had a defined sense of the end of things. But clearly, the incident with the soldier, Karl, haunted him. In 1997 he wrote a "revised edition" adding 100 pages to the meeting with Karl; giving more context and detail - and again asked 53 of the "best and brightest", "What would you have done?" I just finished it and even after the second reading, I am still stunned by some of the commentaries, so if you read it, be prepared. There is no commonality of answers or beliefs on forgiveness. We pick a lane in life and run in it. The lane and our run is framed by our beliefs, experiences, and sense of value; they all seem to be different and sometimes in conflict.

The power of the book is that it makes you feel as well as think. What would I do? I thought about it a lot and cannot honestly say, but I think my response would lead back to Simon and Karl. Perhaps the forgiveness is in Simon's urge, his lack of certainty, his writing of the book. Perhaps God knows our limits. Perhaps God lives in Simon's haunting and uncertainty and in Karl's confession. Perhaps for God, that is enough.

If you want my copy and then perhaps pass it along, let me know. I can give it to you or send it to you. It doesn't have to occupy space on the shelf. It occupies space in the heart.

jmullen409@yahoo.com let me know

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