On June 19, 2015, in a courtroom in Charleston, South Carolina, members of the families of the shooting victims of Dylann Roof, one by one, addressed Mr. Roof with words, not of reconciliation, but of forgiveness and the invitation to his own transformation.
In the words of Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of the murdered Daniel Simmons: “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win.”
These were words of deep maturity, of great strength and power of spirit. These were the words of people who have made the arduous journey of transformation from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life. They speak volumes to each of us and to our society, a society that more naturally turns to the language of vengeance than to the invitation to transformation.
Transformation is the movement from the lie to the truth. It involves abandoning the lie of violent protection of the defended self and moves to open and compassionate engagement. It is an assertive and passionate stance that postures itself in fearless non-defense as it presents its invitation to compassionate connection.
Transformation is all encompassing. True transformation addresses every corner, every action and interaction of life. The big transformation reflected in these people’s beautiful statements does not happen without continual loving attention to the mundane. I want to drive the same streets as these people. I want to meet them when the clerk cannot solve my problem at the checkout counter, when my computer crashes and the washing machine breaks down. I want to be them when my neighbor hates cats or believes something not true about me.
Transformation denies nothing. Rather, it feels all fully, expresses all truly and then makes the choice of non-defensive invitation. I cannot say this more clearly than to use the words of Nadine Carter, daughter of the slain Ethel Lance: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
Transformation is not distracted. Rather, it is present and engaged. This is no small thing in contemporary culture, a culture of the numbing distraction of the material packaged in the seductive pill of perpetual media. The transformed life is practiced and lived in active presence, not in passive distraction.
Transformation addresses the heart, not the periphery of the matter. Change happens by planting and nurturing the right seeds, not by trying to stick new leaves on old trees. The courts will perform the duty of public safety by placing necessary physical constraints on Dylann Roof. And to the extent of the law, they may go beyond that, in expression of the tree of our broader culture, by acting out violent retribution. Aside from limited safety, nothing changes in this model. But these profound people, instead, have offered Mr. Roof the seeds of true transformation in the gift of forgiveness, the invitation to repentance (change of heart and mind) and the call to engagement of new life through the path of transformation.
Transformation is for people and affects systems. It is true that we need systems that reflect transformation. But systems only reflect the condition of the collective soul. Our collective soul reflects, increasingly, massive greed masked by perpetual distraction and enforced, ultimately, by violence. Johnny Appleseed grew apple trees by planting apple seeds. True transformation of systems happens through the constant invitation to and nurture of individual change. Dylann Roof, dear friends, has been invited.
Transformation is a choice. In fact it involves one choice after another, with practice. Like musicians who have mastered their instrument through years of focused practice, these fine people have achieved mastery of their lives through abandonment of defended ego in favor of compassionate connection and engagement.
Ultimately, transformation is the singular journey of our life. It is the journey home, the journey from isolated small “s” self to connected capital “S” Self. It is the journey that transcends suffering and death, that recognizes and clings to the eternal and relinquishes the temporal.
May we each have the courage to engage transformation and practice it with the persistence demonstrated by these amazing people. May we abandon isolated and defended ego in the embrace of fearless connection. May we invite others – even those who would kill us in hatred with the hands and feet of fear – may we invite them to join us under the Tree of Life.
© Two Trees in the Garden. Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.
Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype. Contact email@example.com.