Reflections on Gifts of Grace : Forgiveness for Collective Suffering
Helena Ripley, an SCM Member and part of SCM Lancaster, reflects on how Gifts of Grace impacted her personally and helped her consider communal forgiveness for generational and collective trauma in relation to her family’s experiences in World War II.
Going to Gifts of Grace in Glasgow (all the alliteration!) was an exciting and moving experience. I had been quite tired and stressed the week leading up to it and was dreading meeting lots of new people as well as keeping up with the sessions. I was exhausted (and I have to admit I spent most of the first session on Saturday thinking about coffee!) but I repeatedly listened to a podcast on the practice of equanimity* which helped me to accept my tiredness and be more present. Meeting new people was easier than expected, everyone I talked to was lovely and welcoming, and I found some unexpected connections! Being elected to the General Council and to serve as a trustee was amazing, thank you all! Being named Member of the Year was also exciting and surprising. It has been an honour to be a part of the Movement and I’m looking forward to the years to come.
(*Calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.)
In Jo’s session, “Forgiveness as Individuals”, my ideas of forgiveness largely revolved around the individual, but also to some extent the hurts of a loved one. My understanding of forgiveness was an inner reconciliation with the hurts others have caused you and with the hurts you have caused others. While this is challenging when it comes to offering forgiveness (to myself or others) for hurts I have experienced, it seems much harder to do this for another’s pain.
This, for me, was related to Rabbi Kate Briggs’ talk on the importance of forgiveness in Judaism. While her main focus wasn’t on the Holocaust that was the bit that resonated most with me. My Mother’s parents were from Poland and they both had a horrific involvement in the second World War: concentration camps, death marches and other experiences I hate to imagine. They weren’t Jewish but my Grandmother’s family, in particular, had close links with the Jewish community. The idea of collective suffering and the community having to coming to terms with this, plus the different attitudes to forgiveness that were touched on, sounded like the experiences of my family but on a much larger scale.
In our family the community aspect is missing to some extent; we have family in the UK and abroad who know what it’s like to be very close to someone who was so traumatically affected by the Holocaust. My Grandmother (and to some extent my mothers siblings) had links with the Polish community in the UK but I don’t know how much a view of collective suffering and forgiveness was a part of this community. I have a friend whose family went through a similar experience. Talking to her has been helpful and has enabled me to better understand the ways in which my family deals with and comes to terms with their trauma, but Rabbi Kate’s talk inspired me to want to connect with the Jewish community too. Being able to talk to someone who can not only sympathise with this generational pain but is in the same position has been a surprising and new revelation for me as my family has been unintentionally isolated from the wider community of Holocaust sufferers.
I wonder how I can combine the ideas of equanimity I learned from the podcast with the inner reconciliation that I identified in Jo’s session, in order to learn how to deal with the suffering of my family and others affected by the Holocaust. To some extent it doesn’t feel like my job to offer forgiveness for the pain that others went through. But to paraphrase, “withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. I don’t want to cause myself further pain by not working on forgiveness and I never want to lose sight of the experiences of my family. As my mother says family traumas are a part of our genetic makeup and every generation needs to offer forgiveness. Dwelling too much on past hurts without an aim to forgive can lead to conflict. I hope a connection with the Jewish community might help me to find a healthy way forward.