Peace and Reconciliation.
Working as I do at Coventry Cathedral those words inevitably roll off the tongue together, as if inextricably linked from birth, but that’s really not so. 100 years ago, when the guns fell silent at last, there was peace for a time, – but very little reconciliation.
Paradoxically, that came to the fore a little over two decades later, when a seed was sown in wartime, amid the smouldering debris of the Coventry blitz. The morning after that night of destruction, a Church of England priest, walking in the ruins of his beloved Cathedral chose just two words to mark what had taken place. Those words, “Father forgive” were important in themselves – but even more important was the word that isn’t there….. In the apse of the ruined Cathedral, and in our Coventry litany of reconciliation that we pray day by day the verb has no object.
We do not say “Father forgive them”. There is no sense that some need more forgiveness than others, that the world can be divided into “us” and “them” , goodies and baddies. Instead we face a simple truth that we all have within us the capacity for good or for evil, and that we all alike stand in need of forgiveness.
It’s that admission that is essential. Where any party is convinced that they are innocent, reconciliation is almost impossible, for it almost always involves letting go of something – be it a grievance, or something material that prevents us from turning to the one-time enemy, with open hands and heart.
That letting go, and that turning towards is a challenge. The whole reconciliation journey, from fractured past to shared future, is fraught with challenges, as we acknowledge and then seek to mend what is broken, in our relationship with ourselves, with one another, with God. In the beginning “God looked at all that was made and saw that it was good” – but since then we’ve changed the landscape, so that we travel through the hostile terrain of our wounds and misdoings, our divisions and estrangements.
Rumi, the Sufi mystic wrote “Out there beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – and that’s our destination too – a place where peace and justice, mercy and truth can to find a balance point, to truly rest with one another.
But oh, the way is tortuous and wearying at times.
“If thou can get but thither” says Vaughan, as if this life-time journey could be accomplished just like that “ there grows the flower of peace”, while Jesus offers: “My own peace I give to you”. His is a strange peace indeed, framed as it is by a crown of thorns – but ultimately, that is the only route to reconciliation. It is the power of unbounded, unconditional love, poured out with reckless generosity that can enable to believe in and practice love once again – to build what Provost Howard of Coventry called a “kinder, more Christ-child-like world” –so that little by little we no longer need to think in terms of “them” and “us”, for God’s reconciling love holds all secure.