It was one of those combination of coincidences that worked an utter treat. It was a classic Fitzroy evening among many such.
My friends Ken and Gail Heffner had a group of students from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan in Belfast studying. Their final assignments were to be pieces of art. Gail suggested we might display those in Fitzroy on their last Sunday evening.
At the same time the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship got the opportunity of having Brother Thierry speak on what was the Sunday in the middle of the Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity.
What to do? In the end we did the mash up! Students from a Dutch Reformed College in the mid west of America mixed up with a Benedictine monk from Paris, now living in a monastery in Rostrevor.
And oh my how it worked!
Those Calvin students really worked it up. There was painting, photography, sketches, poetry, music, song and even a children’s book. The exhibition fills the Living Corridor Gallery in Fitzroy for the next few weeks. It has a quality. It engages. It provokes.
The secret to their art was their listening and the time they took to understand. How many young Americans arrive and hear about our woes and have simple clichéd answers within hours. There was a humility to the Calvin students’ listening. They caught the complexities.
In the end I think they took the advice of Colin Davidson, our very best artist. Colin believes that art should ask questions rather than being tempted towards propaganda answers. Again, these students listened. Again, the art benefited.
There was a sense that the Children’s Book with stunning illustrations should have a publisher and that the song should be released as a single. The mirror in The Future Starts With You was getting written on, stories were going inside the cups of Cuppa to be passed on.
This was an evening all of its own…. and then… into the middle of all of these young Americans - a French monk!
In the first half of the evening Brother Thierry shared how, from almost out of the blue, he fell in love with Jesus and committed his life to him. It was a testimony straight out of a Ballymena Gospel Hall, apart from the habit he was wearing! Some might say that wearing that negated his testimony. It’s why we need weeks of prayer from Christian unity!
When Brother Thierry got up to bring his homily there was clarity, a prophetic punch with a very pastoral gentleness.
Taking his theme from the 4 Corners Festival 2019, Thierry unpacked the wisdom of Scripture on the theme of forgiveness. He confronted us with the stumbling blocks -
“… we identify ourselves with our wounds, we cling to them”
“To reduce ourselves to our wounds reduce the one who hurt us his or her evil deed is to dehumanise our self and the other.”
“… the main symptom of the refusal to forgive is the inability to move on in life… the refusal to forgive is a futile and desperate attempt to remain in control of our lives and it is a sure and sad promise of mere survival.”
I was particularly taken by the idea that refusing to forgive someone was a form of self harm. This is also the part of Thierry’s talk that touched most weightily on our social and political lack of forgiveness in N. Ireland.
“… the refusal to forgive and to be forgiven imprisons us and others to the past, it makes us connect to our past in a harmful way, it is a form of self harming.”
Thierry goes on to see lack of forgiveness as a form of idolatry -
“… to look at everything through the prism of one hurtful event, could be considered as an of adoration of the past, a form of idolatry, when in fact it is the present which requires our attention and energies.”
How that might change the inertia of the current Stormont standoff and how we deal with our past in this country.
Throughout, Thierry was using the stories of the Scriptures. Ultimately forgiveness is about being about the things of God. God teaches us through his own example to be those who move first as he did even back as far as Eden and later in Jesus. When we hit for the other to come and seek forgiveness before we give it, “we fence in grace at work within us”.
In the end what do we wish to add to the world. Atoms of hate, hurt and violence or “atoms of forgiveness”.
What a night! The complexity, the insights, the questions and the call to be like God - forgivers!