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In 1987, while travelling on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury to help in negotiating the release of western hostages captured by Hezbollah, Terry Waite was himself taken prisoner. He was held, largely in solitary confinement, for almost five years and was subject to torture and mock executions during the first year of his captivity.
Last week, he returned to the apartment block in Beirut where he was captured to meet with Ammar Moussawi, a senior Hezbollah figure, saying he wanted to consign his suffering to the past and forgive his captors.
Terry is a member of the same Quaker Meeting as I am. I would like to think that some of the space and reflection he needed to bring him to this courageous undertaking was found in the attentive silence of our Meetings for Worship.
Forgiveness is never easy. Perhaps those who tell us it is have not yet experienced much which they need to forgive or be forgiven for. Terry has already come under some criticism as errors of judgement he may have made 25 years ago are picked over. Some commentators apparently see this as a reason to devalue his decision, failing to acknowledge the added difficulty of learning to forgive oneself.
The real difficulty of entering on the process of forgiveness – for it is a process and not an event - is often not acknowledged. To dwell on the 'faults', supposed or real, of an individual seeking to move towards reconciliation is perhaps an indicator of its difficulty. Both for the injured party and for those who observe what may be a long and difficult journey, there will be many opportunities to find excuses why the trek should not continue – even why it should never have been embarked upon in the first place.
In the first shock of wrong or harm being done to us, the instinct is to hunker down for survival.This can be a a case of getting through the next five minutes, the next hour. In this phase, forgiveness is not even on the horizon. It is the next stage which may make us vulnerable.
As we begin to look up once more and to re-engage, there is a danger of hugging hurt close to ourselves, of wearing it as a badge and permitting it to define us as hard-used, as victims, as martyrs. This is also the time when what surrounds and feeds into us may well be the difference between grace and embitterment.
Terry Waite has chosen, or has been chosen by, grace. In coming to a place where he recognises and speaks his truth: "I believe that reconciliation between larger groups, political groups, has to begin here with our own personal reconciliation”, and having the strength to act on that belief, he illuminates a truth that we all need to own.
If we are to make just and peaceful societies possible, this is the only way forward. No amount of military or economic force, no amount of bluster, threat or appeal to tradition can bring about healing. Whether in the Middle East, Belfast, church councils or families, there comes a turning point where the decision must be made to refuse to remain prisoners of the past. We are taught that both mourners and peacemakers are blessed. The journey from one state to the other may be arduous and we do well to heed when lamps are lit to guide our steps. Thank you Terry.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet