Part of what makes Friday’s tragedy in Paris so startling for us is that it brings death so close to home.

The French monks of Tibhirine in Algeria in the early 1990’s lived always with the awareness of death close to their consciousness. They did not have the luxury most of us enjoy much of the time of viewing death as a remote reality only to be met in some distant future.

As he pondered the possibility of his death at the hands of violent men, Brother Christian de Cherge wrote,

I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would enable me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who strikes me down. I cannot wish such a death. It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were to be indiscriminately accused of my murder. It is too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes Islam to be. I am aware of the contempt in which the Algerians as a whole can be held.

In advance of the violent act that would end his life, Brother Christian chose the difficult path of forgiveness, knowing perhaps that the way of bitterness, resentment and revenge creates only more death wherever it is chosen.

It is unimaginable to think what parents, family and friends woke up to in Paris Saturday morning on 14 November 2015.

No one can tell anyone who suffered this onslaught of violence how they should respond to their devastating loss. Those of us who have not had loved ones violently torn from our embrace can only say, “We honour you who have survived and stand with you in the process of your grief. In time may you find a way through this pain to a place where you may again experience some light in the dark painful reality of your world.”

But, Brother Christian hoped that, if his death came at the hands of violent men, the world might respond towards his killers in the way Jesus hoped we would respond:

I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Brother Christian hoped his survivors would live the answer to the prayer Jesus instructed us to pray saying,

forgive us our debts,
     as we also have forgiven our debtors.(Matthew 6:12)

To “forgive” is not to condone or diminish in any way the horror that has taken place. It is not to say that grievous wrong has not been done. Forgiveness does not do away with the need to strive for justice or to enact laws that aim to protect citizens from grievous harm.

To “forgive” is to open to a deeper reality in which we are not defined by the wrong and violence inflicted upon the world and to respond to the pain of life from this more spacious place that is defined by love.

Forgiveness opens the door to the possibility of a new way of being. It creates the possibility of freedom for the afflicted and transformation for the world.

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or, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Where Do We Go From Here?
Chaos or Community,
1967)

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