Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OPF Conference Reflections I

From a participant (Judith Toy) in the Orthodox Peace Fellowship Conference in Madison - September 16-18, 2011 - forwarded with permission
Dear Friends,

It was I who remarked that our conference seemed to constitute a "think tank" on the topic of forgiveness. What an extraordinary convergence of those dedicating their lives to peace and reconciliation. I felt deeply honored to have been a small part of the OPF gathering. And indeed, I learned how Orthodoxy closely relates to Buddhism. Perhaps the particular practitioners of the Orthodox Church who belong to OPF may relate more closely than others of Orthodoxy to our engaged Buddhist practice in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. (I have often heard my teacher speak of his friend Jim Forest.)

This is also to thank Father John-Brian and his Ethiopian-American parishioners for the wonderful Ethiopian lunch feast and coffee ceremony on Friday. What a privilege to sit with that radiant family and break bread. I felt so welcomed to Madison and to the Conference. Father John, if you will, please forward their address.

Yet I admit to coming away with a heavy heart. Not until Saturday evening had I seen the film about Kim. Sitting next to Do while viewing on a large screen the unspeakable tragedy of children burned to death and maimed by napalm was wrenching. I could hear behind me the sobs of a young Iraqi vet.

Do took my hand. I was sick afterwards. I could only say to Do (literally having born witness to his suffering) "I am sorry. I am so sorry."

What strikes me this morning as I think about forgiveness, is that the very word conjures up a separation between the forgiver and the forgiven. What I learned through experience with the murders of my own family was: not until I felt absolutely intertwined with the perpetrator was forgiveness possible.

The Native Americans call this walking a mile in the moccasins of the enemy.

The Buddhists call this experience the emptiness which contains all things.

Not until the edges between myself and the other are blurred can we be truly reconciled.

We can only walk in the shoes of the other. We can only bear witness. We can only raise money, dig wells. We can only minister to the sick. We can only attend the dying, visit the imprisoned. We can only throw straw on the mud.

We can only forgive the perpetrators. We can only continue to "lavish our love" on the many who continue to cause suffering, endure suffering. In that regard, I thank you for bearing witness to my own suffering, the degradation of having three people murdered in my family--something I share with Do, although we did not discuss it.

Home in Black Mountain, in these beautiful Southern Appalachian mountains, I want to cultivate joy and encourage gratitude for the opportunity to live simply and sanely, that God may make use of me in the world. Every moment is precious. There is work to be done. You have modeled this for me. You are an inspiration!

Let us please stay in touch. And thank you.

Rev. Judith Toy, Order of Interbeing
Cloud Cottage Community of Mindful Living
Mindfulness practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh
PO Box 652, Black Mountain, NC 28711

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