10th November 2021
HOM: Listening to others with understanding and empathy
‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’
On the altar of the ruins of the old cathedral in Coventry which was bombed by the Luftwaffe in WW2, are carved the words ‘Father forgive’. Originally some people had wanted it to read ‘Father forgive them’. However, in recognition of the need for forgiveness for all in times of conflict and that none of us is without fault or ‘sin’, the words carved were simply ’Father forgive’.
Each year I take Wychwood Inters to visit Coventry Cathedral and I already have it booked again for next year, because it is a powerful witness to the virtue of forgiveness, writ large in its art and architecture.
The message of Coventry Cathedral is one of forgiveness and reconciliation, which are necessary steps before peace can be gained, either on a personal or international level. Forgiveness entails recognition of one’s own weaknesses and acknowledgement of the ‘why’ behind the actions of those we seek to forgive. While the people of Coventry suffered greatly from the bombing they knew too of the common fate of Dresden through similar bombing raids, which led to the twinning of the two cities. The people of both cities consequently played a part in the rebuilding of their cities, building bridges between the communities and forging friendships.
The ability to empathise is central to enabling forgiveness and it is indeed a virtue and an attribute ‘of the strong’. Only the strong can admit to their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities and be forgiving of the weaknesses and understanding of the vulnerabilities of others.
It is hard to forgive, that is why in Christianity it is considered a ‘divine’ attribute, because it doesn’t come naturally to us. As we approach the season or Advent, Christians often seek to prepare themselves for Christmas through personal reflection and ‘soul-searching’. Knowing our own weaknesses and flaws as human beings makes us less able to maintain simple distinctions between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’. It makes us less judgemental and more able to approach Christmas as the season of goodwill to all, as is intended.