Reflection by The Right Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows
In a time that seems to be defined by extremes, “extreme polarization” and “extreme violence” come to mind, I’ve been pondering the notion of “extreme forgiveness.” The Litany of Penitence which is part of the Episcopal Ash Wednesday proper liturgy strikes me as an opportunity to seek God’s extreme forgiveness for all the wrongs we have done or in which we have been complicit.
Last year I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Eva Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust and the twins experiments of Dr. Mengele. She and her sister Miriam were imprisoned at Auschwitz for nine months in 1944 and subjected to medical experiments in the “Blood Lab.” A native of Romania, Kor was liberated from Auschwitz and lived in Israel before marrying her husband and settling in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she still resides. Though she was more than a witness to the horrors of the Holocaust and has had life-long health problems resulting from her ordeal, she eventually found radical forgiveness as her path to true liberation and, in her words, release from victimhood. She did not want evil and hate to define her life. Nearly 50 years after her imprisonment she interviewed and then wrote a letter of forgiveness to Dr. Hans Munch, an operator of the gas chambers that killed so many. Now in her 80s, Ms. Kor speaks to adults and children about her experience and journey to such extreme forgiveness.
There is no doubt that forgiving so radically requires deep maturity, grace, and mercy. Eva Kor says, that for her, the forgiving brings the healing. Though she doesn’t approach her extreme forgiveness from a place of spirituality and mindful of the Christian complicity in the Holocaust, I believe her story has something to offer those of us who observe the season of Lent. Lent is our time to be intentional about taking stock of the most broken parts of our lives and our world as we seek forgiveness for our sins of omission and commission. In the era of #MeToo, rampant gun violence, Black Lives Matter, and so many other structural ills in our society, it may be too much to imagine writing a letter of forgiveness to someone who has caused us pain or done violence to us. It might be beyond our fathoming to recount the pain, let alone forgive. It may seem too extreme. And yet … Jesus, who had an enviable well of forgiveness to draw upon even as he hung from the cross, continually calls us to the Way of Love and new depths of grace, mercy and liberation. There are many paths to liberation and extreme forgiveness is but one. However we get there, may this Lenten journey lead to the healing of ourselves and our world that allows resurrection, not evil, to be our defining story.
Follow along with us this Lent season with our daily devotional and engage in discussion in our closed facebook group moderated by The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner & The Rev. Jan Kwiatowski.
In this group, participants will have a chance to share their responses to the prompts in the daily readings, and also the chance to receive additional material for reflection.