The Best of Struggles

One day last week, as the Canadian government was announcing a five-year "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" to hear stories from First Nations people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the residential school system, a young native woman who could not have been in one of those schools was interviewed on radio. These were her words: "No, I myself wasn't in a residential school, but my parents and grandparents were. Their experience lives in my blood and breath and bones, coursing all of us through a history we never chose." (my italics)

Her words were so powerful in that moment that my own breath stopped. But I wasn't thinking of First Nations people - deep as is my resonance with their struggles for truth, for justice - I was thinking of the effects of clergy sexual abuse, and how that too continues to affect my experience of Church, how it changed my relationship with it forever. I had thought that particular wound healed, until a few weeks ago when I was driving home from the airport after ten intense days of work in Chicago, the same ten days that Pope Benedict XVI was visiting Washington. Being deeply immersed in my own work, I had not followed his visit at all, and while driving home I was listening to a summary report. When I heard that for the first time he publicly acknowledged the Church's shame at the clergy sexual abuse scandals, and had personally met with some victims and their families, I felt a violent and unexpected riffle of racking sobs, quickly followed by tears. I had to pull the car off the highway as I shook and cried. I believe it was with relief. Counseling colleagues of mine had told me that the victims with whom they worked were doubly wounded by the Church's refusal to acknowledge any responsibility, some even more wounded by this than by the abuse itself.

The telling of truth is a powerful act. When that act has reconciliation as its stated intention, then the power for healing is amplified. But in our culture, in our associations and congregations and organizations, an effort to speak truth is neither encouraged nor rewarded. Often it is treated as uncharitable, even sinful, or at best embarrassing. We have not yet learned ways - personally and collectively - of encouraging one another to tell whatever our truth is, to have it heard and held, and to have it mirrored respectfully as part of the larger reality that it is. Instead, truth tellers are more often feared and avoided, or tolerated with fear and caution and worse - isolation.

The Canadian government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission made me wonder what would happen if the Roman Catholic Church saw fit to follow suit. What truths might we be treated to in public hearings, and how far back in history would we go? How personal would it get, and might it only deal with Galileo or the Inquisition and the burning of witches or the sanction of slavery or the selling of indulgences or the promiscuity of popes and priests? Would it even acknowledge Martin Luther's truth-telling, and would it include the present day? Would continuing injustice towards women be mentioned, and the scandalous wealth of the Vatican even as a preferential option for the poor is promoted? How about continuing ignorance about sexual orientation, and the Church's public confusion of gays and pedophiles?  And do all these experiences live in our blood and breath and bones, coursing all of us through a history we never chose?"

The best of struggles has always been about justice, truth being one of the names  by which justice is known. This could be the time of turnaround, the time when we look more directly at the losses we suffer when truth is manipulated or secreted or imprisoned with lies. We would do well to take into our souls a line from the poet W.S. Merwin: "All her life/ she was in love/ with the hope of telling utter truth." There is alive in the world today a movement embracing such leanings toward truth and reconciliation. It is not one particular group or organization; it's not a person or an ideology or a field of study; rather it's a global emergence of individuals and organizations constellating around a set of values. Those values include the primacy of the earth in all decisions; the equality of all people, men and women; rejecting materialism and sharing wealth with those who have less. and including all in making decisions that affect them. This movement is being noted and tracked; it is believed that well over a million such groups now exist on our planet, and that doesn't include individuals who daily make choices according to those values. We are indeed in a time of Great Shift, and it is well to know where we personally stand in relationship to that Shift.

For even with terrible injustices coursing through our history and affecting us all in ways we cannot even imagine, it is possible to go forward choosing values that transform the effects of that history. We can be, after all, the new story; we can refuse to stay stuck in denial; we can choose to acknowledge our small sightedness and what it has caused and we can choose forgiveness and reconciliation. Choose. Rumi the poet said it well when he wrote "Out beyond the field of right and wrongdoing/there is a field; I'll meet you there."

This is a place to start: truth, reconciliation - the best of struggles.

* words from a woodcarving in a Women's Resource Centre in Quezon City, Philippines, which reads

"The rest of our lives must be lived in the best of struggles."