This June, I was privileged to join a group of women on a three-day retreat in northern Minnesota. This retreat brought together mothers of children who were murdered with mothers whose children are in prison for committing murder. They all carry deep pain in their lives. I was along as support staff, to cook and care for the women.
The three days began with awkward conversations and actions: Each woman trying to settle in, claim safe space, and be strong. They came from two different sides of a tragic experience. They held deep resentment and anger. They had great trepidation, yet, courageously choose to attend together.
Once everyone arrived, the first group activity was prayer. Trusting God, ground rules were set: the women were all in this together. The women were willing, and the retreat unfolded. In various forms, the women were invited to honestly and courageously share their story with one another. They were challenged to respectfully listen and hear one another.
Through the simple, yet profound experience of sharing stories and deep listening, tears were shed and walls broke down. I witnessed a transformation from division and brokenness to solidarity, love, and support. Each woman gained a deep respect and admiration for the other. Each woman understood that there was more in common than different. They were filled with compassion for one another. Bonds were formed that were deep and profound. Grace abound.
This retreat was facilitated by From Death To Life, an organization that brings families impacted by the tragedy of homicide together for healing and forgiveness. Their work offers hope to families and transforms the entire community through healing, reconciliation, and peace. You can learn more at www.fromdeathtolife.us.
The work of reconciliation and healing is happening all around the world. The Catholic Relief Services is doing powerful work in Rwanda with victims of genocide. They are bringing together Hutu with Tutsi to share stories, make amends, and heal communities. Through this sincere work, solidarity is born. You can learn about this incredible work at www.storiesofhope.crs.org.
Reconciliation and healing is happening in current war zones in the Middle East. Organizations such as Churches for Middle East Peace bring together Israelis and Palestinians to hear one another’s story and listen with respect. In this process, they find solidarity and compassion for one another. Participants speak about the power of understanding how the ongoing conflict undermines the lives and livelihoods of both peoples. They aspire to become an advocate for an end to the violence and better futures for all. Learn about this important work at www.cmep.org.
While the specifics of these situations are unique, the experience of division, resentment, or hatred is not. These can be found in our own lives. We all build walls around us to protect and separate us from hurt. Families can be estranged, and siblings can become alienated. Neighborhoods can be destroyed, and churches can become divided.
As we seek to make sense of a world of division and violence, let us look into our own lives and find healing and reconciliation. Where are our walls? Who are we keeping out? Whose story do we need to hear? And who needs to listen to our story? Healing and reconciliation are fruits of the Spirit. Let us be inspired by the women at the retreat. Let us all find ways to recognize our own anger and fear, yet, courageously choose to show up together. God will be there, waiting.