Archive for September, 2020

An Unspeakable Name

September 21st, 2020

Interspiritual Mysticism

An Unspeakable Name
Monday,  September 21, 2020

Remember what God said to Moses: “I AM Who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God is clearly not tied to a name, nor does God seem to want us to tie Divinity to any one name. Which is why, in Judaism, God’s statement to Moses became God’s unspeakable and unnamable identity. Some would say that the name of God literally cannot be “spoken,” only breathed. [1] Now that was very wise, and sometimes I wish we had kept it up. This tradition alone should tell us to practice profound humility in regard to God, who gives us not a name, but only pure presence—no handle that could allow us to think we “know” who God is or have the divine as our private possession.

The Christ is always far too much for us, larger than any one era, culture, empire, or religion. Its radical inclusivity is a threat to any power structure and any form of arrogant thinking. Jesus by himself has usually been limited by the evolution of human consciousness in these first two thousand years, and held captive by culture, nationalism, and Western Christianity’s own cultural captivity to a white, bourgeois, and Eurocentric worldview. We have often missed the ways Jesus reveals himself, because “there stood among us one we did not recognize” (John 1:26). He came in mid-tone skin, from the underclass, a male body with a female soul, from an often-hated religion, and living on the very cusp between East and West. No one owns him, and no one ever will.

Jesus clearly says naming God correctly is not the priority, “Do not believe those who say ‘Lord, Lord’” (Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46. Italics added). It is those who “do it right” that matter, he says, not those who “say it right.” Yet verbal orthodoxy has been Christianity’s preoccupation, at times even allowing us to burn people at the stake for not “saying it right.” We ended up spreading national cultures under the rubric of Jesus, instead of a universally liberating message under the name of Christ. What I call an incarnational worldview is the profound recognition of the presence of the divine in literally “every thing” and “every one.”

I would go so far as to say that the proof that you are a mature Christian is that you can see Christ everywhere else. Authentic God experience always expands your seeing and never constricts it. What else would be worthy of God? In God you do not include less and less; you always see and love more and more. And it is from this place that we lose any fear we have about entering into discussion, prayer, and friendship with people of other faith traditions.

Interspiritual Mysticism

Solidarity Instead of Judgment
Sunday,  September 20, 2020

In our one small and interwoven world, the great spiritual messengers of all the sacred traditions are a universal human treasure, to be received and reverenced with the respect due an attained being, an exemplar of a higher level of human consciousness. —Cynthia Bourgeault

While many Christians are familiar, and possibly even comfortable, with the idea of interfaith dialogue, few have had exposure to the discipline of interspirituality. While the first tends to be a respectful exchange of ideas; the second is a shared journey into the depths of the heart. Most Christians have been discouraged from exploring the teachings and practices of other religions, but I believe the loving and universal scope of Jesus Christ provides us with a model of how to recognize and celebrate truth on the many different paths to God.

Through Jesus Christ, God’s own broad, deep, and all-inclusive worldview is made available to us. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the point of the Christian life is not to distinguish oneself from the other world religions, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else. This is the full, final, and intended effect of the Incarnation—symbolized by the cross, which is God’s great act of solidarity instead of judgment. This is how we are to imitate Jesus, the good Jewish man who saw and called forth the divine in Gentiles like the Syro-Phoenician woman and the Roman centurions who followed him; in Jewish tax collectors who collaborated with the Empire; in zealots who opposed it; in sinners of all stripes; in eunuchs, pagan astrologers, and all those “outside the law.” Jesus had no trouble whatsoever with otherness.

If we are ready to reclaim the true meaning of “catholic,” which is “universal,” we must concentrate on including—as Jesus clearly did—instead of excluding—which he never did. The only thing Jesus excluded was exclusion itself.

After the incarnation of Jesus, humanity could more easily imagine a give-and-take, relational and forgiving God. Christians had a very good model and messenger in Jesus, but many outliers actually came to the “banquet” more easily, as Jesus often says in his parables of the resented and resisted banquet (Matthew 22:1–10; Luke 14:7–24), where “the wedding hall was filled with guests, both good and bad alike” (Matthew 22:10). What are we to do with such divine irresponsibility, such endless largesse, such an unwillingness on God’s part to build walls or create unneeded boundaries?

We must be honest and humble about this: many people of other faiths, like Sufi masters, Jewish prophets, many philosophers, and Hindu mystics, have lived in light of the Divine encounter better than many Christians. And why would a God worthy of the name God not care about all of God’s children? (Read Wisdom 11:23–12:2 for a powerful Scripture in this regard.) Does God really have favorites among God’s children? What an unhappy family that would create—and indeed, has created.

Transforming Our Pain

September 18th, 2020

Wounded Healers

Transforming our Pain
Friday,  September 18, 2020

If I were to name the Christian religion, I would probably call it “The Way of the Wound.” Jesus agrees to be the Wounded One, and we Christians are these strange believers in a wounded healer. We come to God not through our strength but through our weakness. We learn wisdom and come to God not by doing it all right but through doing it all wrong.

If you were going to create a religion, would you think of creating, as your religious image, a naked, bleeding, wounded man? It is the most unlikely image for God, the most illogical image for Omnipotence. None of us in our wildest imagination would have come up with it. It must expose a central problem of human existence, for God to come into the world in this form and in this way. Sadly, we Christians have become accustomed to the cross—perhaps we have domesticated it—and we no longer receive the shock and the scandal of all that this image of failure is saying. Being wounded, suffering, and dying are the quickest and most sure paths to truly living.

Using a scapegoat is our much-preferred method. We deny our pain, sins, and suffering and project them elsewhere. This ancient method still works so well that there is no reason to think it is going to end or change. Until we are enlightened by grace, we don’t even see it; it remains safely hidden in the unconscious where it plays itself out. Once we spot and stop the pattern, the game is over. The cross of Jesus was a mirror held up to history, so we could spot the scapegoating pattern and then stop participating in it.

Only the Great Self, the True Self, the Godself, can carry the anxiety within us. The little self can’t do it. People who don’t pray can’t live the Gospel because the self is not strong enough to hold the anxiety and the fear. If we do not transform our pain, we will always transmit it. Always someone else has to suffer because we don’t know how to suffer; that’s what it comes down to.

Most people are like electric wires: what comes in is what goes out. Someone calls us a name, and we call them a name back. That is, most people pass on the same energy that is given to them. Now compare an electric wire to those big, grey transformers that you see on utility poles. Dangerous current or voltage comes in, but something happens inside that grey box and what comes out is, in fact, now helpful and productive. That is exactly what Jesus does with suffering.

That is what Jesus did: he did not return the negative energy directed at him—not during his life nor when he hung on the cross. He held it inside and made it into something much better. That is how “he took away the sin of the world.” He refused to pass it on! Until the world understands that, there will be no new world.

Wounded Healers

September 17th, 2020

Healing Is a Process
Thursday,  September 17, 2020

I have been recently introduced to the work of Lama Rod Owens, a Black, queer, American-born, Tibetan Buddhist teacher, who was raised in the Christian church and graduated from Harvard Divinity School. Perhaps it is because of his many identities that his teachings on love, self-compassion, and justice seem to be drawn from the perennial wisdom of Reality itself. He writes here of the needed work of healing our own wounds so that the healing can be passed on:

Healing is being situated in love. Healing is not just the courage to love, but to be loved. It is the courage to want to be happy not just for others, but for ourselves as well. It is interrogating our bodies as an artifact of accumulated traumas and doing the work of processing that trauma by developing the capacity to notice and be with our pain. If we are to heal, then we must allow our awareness to settle into and integrate with the pain and discomfort that has been habitually avoided. We cannot medicate the pain away. We embrace it, and in so doing establish a new relationship with the experience. We must see that there is something that must be befriended. This is the true nature of our experience, and in finally approaching this experience we contact basic sanity. . . .

Healing is movement and work toward wholeness. Healing is never a definite location but something in process. It is the basic ordinary work of staying engaged with our own hurt and limitations. Healing does not mean forgiveness either, though it is a result of it. Healing is knowing our woundedness; it is developing an intimacy with the ways in which we suffer. Healing is learning to love the wound because love draws us into relationship with it instead of avoiding feeling the discomfort.

Healing means we are holding the space for our woundedness and allowing it to open our hearts to the reality that we are not the only people who are hurt, lonely, angry, or frustrated. We must also release the habitual aggression that characterizes our avoidance of trauma or any discomfort. My goal is to befriend my pain, to relate to it intimately as a means to end the suffering of desperately trying to avoid it. Opening our hearts to woundedness helps us to understand that everyone else around us carries around the same woundedness. . . .

Perhaps what I have come to understand, finally, is that somehow I have become the one I have always wanted. This is why I do the things that I do. There is a fierce love that wakes me up every morning, that makes me tell my stories, refuses to let me apologize for my being here, blesses me with the capacity to be silent, alone, and grieving when I most need to be. You have to understand that this is what I mean when I say healing.

May all beings be seen, held kindly, and loved. May we all one day surrender to the weight of being healed.

A Mutual Vulnerability

September 16th, 2020

Wounded Healers

A Mutual Vulnerability
Wednesday,  September 16, 2020

Earlier this year, my colleague and dear friend Jim Finley gave an unpublished talk to Illuman, an organization that supports men in authentic spiritual development. Jim shared some stories from his own life, including how he began to heal from his own childhood abuse and trauma with the help of Thomas Merton, who was his novice master and spiritual director at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

When I went in to see Merton for direction, I was eighteen years old, I was just out of high school. Because of my trauma history I had this issue with authority figures. So when I went in to try to talk to him, I hyperventilated; I had a hard time breathing. And he said to me, “What’s going on?” I told him, my voice was shaking, and I said, “I’m scared because you’re Thomas Merton.”

I can remember being so ashamed, because I wanted him to think well of me. . . . He said to me something that really was a turning point in my life. . . . I worked at the pig barn at the time. . . . He said, “Under obedience, every day after afternoon work, before vespers, I want you to come here every day and sit down and tell me one thing that happened at the pig barn each day.”. . .

I remember thinking to myself, “I can do that.” And it leveled the playing field. . . . Just two men sitting in a room, talking about daily work. And he became a father figure for me.

I learned a big lesson, which later really was to affect me in my own therapy and as a therapist, that when you risk sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade you or abandon you, you can learn not to invade or abandon yourself. Even deeper down, when you risk sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade you or abandon you, you can discover within yourself what Jesus called the pearl of great price [Matthew 13:46], your invincible preciousness in the midst of your fragility.

So through humility and through vulnerability, the true strength of being empowered, my manhood came forth, sitting in this room. Out of all the studies I’ve done with Merton, and my talks on Merton, I think nothing went deeper than talking with him about the pigs. Because that’s compassion. . . .

So this is my sense of manhood, I guess: a radicality, a spirituality, that gives me the courage to face the most broken and lost places within myself, discovering through that acceptance the oceanic tender mercy of God that sustains us in that brokenness, so that by learning to be this way ourselves we can pass it on to others. We can be someone in whose presence it’s safe to be vulnerable and to be open, and truly courageous and strong and powerful, as Jesus was strong and powerful, in the truest, deepest sense of the word.

A Healing Community

September 15th, 2020

Tuesday,  September 15, 2020

While all Christians are called to follow Jesus, some communities have been brought deeper into the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection through unjust and unrelenting collective suffering. Dr. Diana L. Hayes, an African American Catholic theologian and scholar, describes the “wounding” of the African American community and their faithful courage which has brought forth so many sacred gifts in the United States and beyond. She writes:

African American spirituality was forged in the fiery furnace of slavery in the United States. The ore was African in origin, in worldview, in culture, and in traditions. The coals were laid in the bowels of ships named, ironically, after Jesus and the Christian virtues, which carried untold numbers of Africans to the Americas. The fire was stoked on the “seasoning” islands of the Caribbean or the “breeding” plantations of the South where men, women, and children of Africa were systematically and efficiently reduced to beasts of burden and items of private property. Yet those who came forth from these fires were not what they seemed. Despite the oppressive and ungodly forces applied against them, they forged a spirituality that encouraged hope and sustained faith, which enabled them to build communities of love and trust and to persevere in their persistent efforts to be the free men and women they had been created to be. . . .

The African American spiritual story is one of hope in the face of despair, of quiet determination in the face of myriad obstacles, of a quiet yet fierce dignity over against the denial of their very humanity. Theirs is a spiritual history literally written in the blood, sweat, and tears of countless foremothers and forefathers who died under the lash, were sold as commodities, were treated as less than human beings, but who struggled and survived despite and in spite of all the forces arrayed against them. It is the story of their encounter with Jesus Christ who enabled them to find a “way out of no way,” who justified their self-understanding as children of God, and who enabled them to persist in the belief that one day they would be free.

The spirituality of African Americans expresses a hands-on, down-to-earth belief that God saw them as human beings created in God’s own image and likeness and intended them to be a free people. . . .

It is a contemplative, holistic, joyful, and communitarian spirituality. This means that it is expressed in prayer through a deeply conscious prayer life that is not passive. . . . This spirituality sustained and nurtured them and enabled them to hold their heads up and “keep on keeping on” when all and everything seemed opposed to their forward movement. It is a spirituality expressed in song, in dance, in prayer, in preaching, and most important, in living each day as best they could in solidarity with one another and their God over against the principalities and powers of their time.

God Uses Everything

September 14th, 2020

Wounded Healers

God Uses Everything
Monday,  September 14, 2020
Feast of the Triumph of the Cross

The genius of Jesus’ ministry is that he embraces tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself to bring us to God. There are no dead ends. Everything can be transmuted, and everything can be used. Everything.

It seems that everybody wants to take easy sides. It’s so consoling for the ego to have an answer; to be sure that my position is the final and only true answer. Yet, as Paul says, on the cross Jesus becomes the sin and the problem. He identifies with the wound, the pain, and the suffering (2 Corinthians 5:21). He does not stand apart from it but enters into it. What a paradox, what a mystery!

Jesus tells Peter, “Peter, you must be sifted like wheat. And once you have recovered, then you, in your turn, can strengthen your companions” (Luke 22:31–32). Until there has been a journey through suffering, I don’t believe that we have true healing authority. We don’t have the ability to lead anybody anyplace new unless we have walked it ourselves to some degree. In general, we can only lead people on the spiritual journey as far as we ourselves have gone. We simply can’t talk about it beyond that. That’s why the best thing we can do for people is to stay on the journey ourselves. We transform people to the degree we have been transformed. When we can somehow be compassion, not just talk about compassion; when we can be healed and not just talk about healing, then we are, as Henri Nouwen said so well, “wounded healers,” but not before.

It always comes through the wounding. What we do when faced with our deepest wounds determines whether there is authentic spirituality at work or not. If we seek to blame other people, accuse, attack, or even explain and make perfect, logical sense out of our wounds, there will be no further spiritual journey. But if, when the wounding happens, we find the grace and the freedom to somehow see that it’s not just a wound, but a sacred wound, then the journey progresses. Then we set out to find ourselves, to find the truth, and to find God.

It’s all about what each of us does with the wound. If we ourselves have never walked through some kind of suffering, whether betrayal, abandonment, rejection, divorce, loss of job, struggles with sexuality, we probably will give people “head” answers. We don’t touch or heal their hearts because our own have not been transformed. I don’t think it’s any accident that in most of Jesus’ healings, he physically touches people. He’s showing that healing cannot be done through the head, through explanations, theories and theologies, or quick, “logical” conclusions. It must somehow be a communication of life and love energy, held even at the cellular level.

Wounded Healers

Our Sacred Wounds
Sunday,  September 13, 2020

Ministry can indeed be a witness to the living truth that the wound, which causes us to suffer now, will be revealed to us later as the place where God intimated [God’s] new creation. —Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932–1996)

Christianity, in its mature forms, keeps pushing us toward the necessary tragic: “the foolishness of the cross,” as Paul calls it (1 Corinthians 1:18). Normally, the way God pushes us is by disillusioning us with the present mode. Until the present falls apart, we will never look for something more. We will never discover what it is that really sustains us. That dreaded falling-apart experience is always suffering in some form. All of us hate suffering, yet all religions talk about it as necessary. It seems to be the price we pay for the death of the small self and the emergence of the True Self—when we finally come to terms with our true identity in God. Many Jungians describe this in psychological terms as the “necessary soul suffering” that comes from the death of the ego. Jesus would say, “Unless the grain of wheat dies, it remains just a grain of wheat” (John 12:24). By avoiding this legitimate pain of being human, we sadly bring on ourselves much longer lasting and, often, fruitless pain.

In the work I have done with men’s spirituality, we call that suffering in its transformed state “the sacred wound.” The sacred wound is a concept drawn from classical mythology, but also from the Christ story. In mythology, the would-be hero is always wounded. The word innocent (innocens, “not yet wounded”) is not a complimentary term in mythology. The puer is the young boy (puella for the young girl) who refuses to be wounded. More precisely, he refuses to recognize and suffer the wounds that are already there. He’s just going to remain nice and normal so everybody will accept him. In our culture, he might smugly remain white and middle class, healthy, “sinless,” Catholic, good-looking, and happy. Maybe he will drive a fancy car or wear the latest clothing. He refuses to let things fall apart. He refuses to be wounded, much less to allow the humiliating wound to become sacred and sanctifying. Yet, I personally believe that the Gospels are saying there is no other way to know something essential. Allowing our always-unjust wounds to, in fact, become sacred wounds is the unique Christian name for salvation. We always learn our mystery at the price of our innocence.

We must trust the pain and not get rid of it until we have learned its lessons. The suffering can be seen as a part of the great pattern of how God is transforming all things. If there is one consistent and clear revelation in the Bible, it is that the God of Israel is the one who turns death into life (see Isaiah 26:19; Romans 4:17; 2 Corinthians 1:9). When we can trust the transformative pattern, and that God is in the suffering, our wounds become sacred wounds. The actual and ordinary life journey becomes itself the godly journey. We trust God to be in all things, even in sin and suffering.

Greater Proximity, Greater Mercy

September 11th, 2020

Restorative Justice

Greater Proximity, Greater Mercy
Friday,  September 11, 2020

Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. —Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, social justice activist, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. [1] In his book Just Mercy: A Story of Redemption and Justice, he makes the case that it is distance—physical, social, and spiritual—that allows injustice to flourish. Proximity to one’s neighbor—and remember, we’re all neighbors according to Jesus—is what turns our hearts towards love and restorative justice. Stevenson writes about his first interaction with an inmate named Henry on death row: two men, exactly the same age, one studying at Harvard Law School, one condemned to die:

Henry asked me questions about myself, and I asked him about his life. Within an hour we were both lost in conversation. . . .

I had no right to expect anything from a condemned man on death row. Yet he gave me an astonishing measure of his humanity. In that moment, Henry altered something in my understanding of human potential, redemption, and hopefulness. . . . Proximity to the condemned and incarcerated made the question of each person’s humanity more urgent and meaningful, including my own. . . .

I’ve also represented people who have committed terrible crimes but nonetheless struggle to recover and to find redemption. I have discovered, deep in the hearts of many condemned and incarcerated people, the scattered traces of hope and humanity—seeds of restoration that come to astonishing life when nurtured by very simple interventions.

Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and—perhaps—we all need some measure of unmerited grace.

Restorative Justice

September 10th, 2020


A Healing Process
Thursday,  September 10, 2020

When human beings admit to one another “the exact nature of our wrongs,” as the Twelve Steps recommend, we invariably have a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides. It is no longer an exercise to achieve moral purity, or regain God’s love, but in fact a direct encounter with God’s love. It is not about punishing one side but liberating both sides. Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice Emeritus of the Navajo Nation, speaks from his Diné tradition about “talking out the problem” as a necessary step towards healing justice.

Many people seem to be turning away from law as coercion and are looking to restorative and reparative principles. Restorative is defined as “the process for renewing damaged personal and community relationships.” Reparative is defined as “the process of making things right for those affected by an offender’s behavior.” In other words, how can we help victims? We use only one word for both ideas: peacemaking. The Navajo term is Hozhooji Naat’aanii. . . . I will simply describe it as “talking things out in a good way.”. . .

The procedure is fairly simple. Its elements are 1) prayer; 2) expressing feelings; 3) “the lecture”; 4) discussion; 5) reconciliation; and 6) consensus.

  1. Prayer. A traditional prayer puts people in the right frame of mind for the talking out. . . .
     
  2. Expressing feelings. After prayer, everyone has a say about what happened. They also express how they feel about what happened. . . . In peacemaking, you must know how I feel, and I must know how you feel. That is part of making or restoring a healthy relationship. . . .
     
  3. “The lecture.” When the prayers have been said, when emotions have been expressed, and when people have told their stories, it is time for guidance from our naat’aanii [peacemaker or Elder] . . . when the peacemaker does some teaching. . . . By offering guidance from our stories, traditions, and ceremonies and applying them to the situation, our peacemakers teach the law. . . .
     
  4. Discussion. Who participates in the peacemaking? The parties themselves (who are the “judges”), a leader and planner (naat’aanii), and relatives. . . . The discussion phase also gets at the causes of problems. . . .
     
  5. Reconciliation. If you operate a “winner take all” system of justice, expect ongoing problems. If you have a system that works toward reconciliation, you may resolve the conflicts that underlie ongoing problems. . . . Navajo justice is restorative justice. . . .
     
  6. Consensus. Finally, based upon the prayer, venting, discussion, and knowledge of the traditional way of doing things, the people themselves usually reach a consensus about what to do. Planning is actually a central Navajo justice concept, and the people plan a very practical resolution to the problem. Today, we put it in writing, and the parties sign it. Consensus is what makes our justice and harmony ceremony—peacemaking—a healing process.

Justice in Relationship

September 9th, 2020

Restorative Justice

Justice in Relationship
Wednesday,  September 9, 2020

Fania E. Davis is a civil rights attorney, writer, scholar, and the founding director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. She explains that through engaging in a relational process of repairing harm, restorative justice is:

A justice that seeks not to punish, but to heal. A justice, according to Kay Pranis, that is not about getting even, but about getting well. [1] A justice that seeks to transform broken lives, relationships, and communities, rather than shatter them further. A justice that seeks reconciliation, rather than a deepening of conflict.

Davis has studied the indigenous roots of restorative justice around the world, particularly in Africa, as shown in her reflections:

African justice making, rather than an occasion to inflict punishment, is an opportunity to teach, learn, reemphasize social values, and reaffirm the bonds of our inherent inter-relatedness. It is also an opportunity to identify and redress problematic social conditions that may have given rise to interpersonal harm.

In African indigenous justice, vindication of the person harmed is prioritized. The person responsible, and often their family, is obligated to offer apology, recompense, and reparation to the harmed person and community. A wrong can be made right by subsequent actions of the responsible person and other community members. Community is central. The concept of family in Africa embraces the nuclear family and the extended family as well as people who do not share blood or marriage relationships. Also, the African family extends beyond the living to include the realm of the ancestors.

Indeed, in the African worldview, when something happens to one, whether blessing or burden, it happens to all. A newborn baby is good fortune for family and also the entire village. Marriage unites two clans, not just two individuals. The deeply communal ethos among African and other indigenous traditions also holds true when wrongdoing occurs. If an individual steals from or kills another, they damage the relationship between their respective lineages or villages. In the wake of harm, making it right is not solely the responsibility of the individuals directly involved; it also the responsibility of communities. The focus is on repairing and rebuilding relationships with the intent of bringing social harmony. African indigenous justice seeks to strengthen relationships by fashioning win-win outcomes.

In keeping with the worldview and principles of African and other indigenous justice systems, restorative justice invites a paradigm shift in the way we think about and do justice—from a justice that harms to a justice that heals. Our prevailing adversarial system [of justice] . . . harms people who harm people, presumably to show that harming people is wrong. This sets into motion endless cycles of harm. Restorative justice seeks to interrupt these cycles by repairing the damage done to relationships in the wake of a crime or other wrongdoing, and do so in a way that is consonant with indigenous wisdom—Africa’s and that of other traditions. Justice is a healing ground, not a battleground.

Restorative Justice

September 8th, 2020

Making Amends
Tuesday,  September 8, 2020

So what are we restoring? For me it’s about returning to the part of us that really wants to be connected to one another in a good way. Returning to the goodness inherent in all of us. —Fania Davis

For justice to be truly restorative, we must seek to restore the dignity and relationships of all involved. Howard Zehr, a long-time advocate, teacher, and practitioner of restorative justice, centers the needs of the victims. He writes:

Restorative justice requires, at minimum, that we address the harms and needs of those harmed, hold those causing harm accountable to “put right” those harms, and involve both of these parties as well as relevant communities in this process. [1]

Here, Zehr explains why making amends is so foundational to healing:

Restorative justice is based upon an old, common-sense understanding of wrongdoing. Although it would be expressed differently in different cultures, this approach is probably common to most traditional societies. For those of us from a European background, it is the way many of our ancestors (and perhaps even our parents) understood wrongdoing.

  • “Crime” or wrongdoing is a violation of people and of interpersonal relationships.
  • Violations create obligations.
  • The central obligation is to put right the wrongs, [that is], to repair the harms caused by wrongdoing. [2]

This is certainly a good description of how my siblings and I were raised by my parents to think about our own “wrongdoings.” Any scrape we got into, any hurt we caused one another, called for restoration far more than retribution. We had to fix what was broken and heal the relationship, not just say, “I’m sorry” or have a “time-out.” I wonder when or why we decided that model of reconciliation was no longer worthy of our time or effort—on familial and societal levels. Zehr continues:

Underlying this understanding of wrongdoing is an assumption about society: we are all interconnected. In the Hebrew scriptures, this is embedded in the concept of shalom, the vision of living in a sense of “all-rightness” with each other, with the creator, and with the environment. Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. . . .

Interrelationships imply mutual obligations and responsibilities. It comes as no surprise, then, that this view of wrongdoing emphasizes the importance of making amends or of “putting right.” Indeed, making amends for wrongdoing is an obligation. While the initial emphasis may be on the obligations owed by those who have caused harm, the focus on interconnectedness opens the possibility that others—especially the larger community—may have obligations as well.

Even more fundamentally, this view of wrongdoing implies a concern for healing of those involved—those directly harmed, those who cause harm, and their communities. [3]

Story from Our Community:
My day is bookended by the Center’s daily meditations and Fr. Richard’s writings. I keep a notebook for recording ideas that are most resonant with me and I take it with me on daily walks. These things are holding me together in this time where I feel emptiness and anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I hike and listen to the bugling of the Sandhill Crane overhead, the sweet trilling of the wood thrush, and the chiming of the [nearby Benedictine] monastery bells. Here in the peace and quiet of the natural world and with words of wisdom in my notebook, I feel steadied, comforted, and grateful. —Stefanie B.