Can you or should you forgive the “unforgivable”?
What does it mean to forgive?
Yesterday evening at Shawlands Academy, people from Glasgow’s diverse communities had a unique opportunity to explore the difficult and messy concept of forgiveness with Marian Partington, an inspirational woman whose sister, Lucy, was murdered by notorious serial killers Fred and Rosemary West.
Marian shared her story which spans 40 years, from the disappearance of Lucy in 1973, through the long years of not knowing what had happened to her, to the discovery of her brutal torture, rape and murder in 1994, through to her present work in prisons through The Forgiveness Project’s “Restore” programme.
Marian described how, as a Quaker, her belief that there is that of God in everyone was seriously challenged when thinking of the horror inflicted on Lucy and others by other human beings. Partly through attending meditation retreats with her Buddhist husband, she found the “stillness” necessary to face the atrocity of what had happened to Lucy, to accept that the past cannot be undone and to make a commitment to bring something positive out of the pain. Marian is clear that she does not forgive what was done to Lucy, but that she has tried to forgive the Wests, empathising with Rosemary who herself was repeatedly abused as a child by her father and her brother. She feels that forgiveness is “not a noun that you can tick off,” but a verb – an ongoing effort that remains a daily choice.
Marian’s story is one of over a hundred personal stories exploring forgiveness in the face of atrocity that have been collected by The Forgiveness Project, and their exhibition “The F Word: Images of Forgiveness” was on display, giving participants an insight into the diversity of approaches and the very personal nature of forgiveness. These stories are available to read online at http://theforgivenessproject.com/stories/.
Participants reflected and discussed together their own understanding of forgiveness in small groups. They were asked “What motivates you to forgive?” and “What do you need in order to forgive?”
At the end of the event asked to say what forgiveness is from their own perspective, here are just a few responses:
“As a Buddhist I believe that forgiveness is letting go and no longer carrying it with me in the present.”
“As a human being, I believe that forgiveness is complex, ultimately liberating for the forgiver; a healthy submission to chaos and loss; self preserving.”
“As a Christian, I believe that forgiveness is love stretched to and beyond what we think we can forgive. My ideal is Christ “Forgive them…””
“As a Jew, I believe that forgiveness is the ability to accept an apology and move on in a positive way, and acceptance of my failings and the ability to confront them and ask forgiveness of the person I have hurt.”
“As a struggling Catholilc/ atheist, I believe that forgiveness is about embracing the future with love, compassion and understanding.”
“As a human being/ Muslim, I believe that forgiveness is something that we should do…keeping in mind that one day we will be asking for forgiveness…”
This event was organised in partnership with Shawlands Academy, and was made possible by the support of Glasgow City Council through Sense Over Sectarianism.
Marian’s memoir “If You Sit Very Still”, which was selected by Rowan Williams as one of his books of the year when it was published in 2012, is available from Vala publishers.
For more information on our Forgiveness project including the full report please see here: http://interfaithglasgow.org/past-projects/