Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On the Healing Power of Story: Fr. Michael Lapsley

"I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact."
-William Stafford in the poem, "Ritual to Read to Each Other."

On Tuesday morning, I had the awesome and amazing privilege of hearing Fr. Michael Lapsley speak at Bethel College. (Pictures follow.) Sponsored by the Reconciliation Studies Department, Fr. Lapsley came from Cape Town, South Africa, to address the students and faculty on this topic of "Forgiveness and Healing."

He had a story to tell.

As the Bethel write-up conveyed:
"Fr. Michael Lapsley was exiled by the South African Government in 1976, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and became one of their chaplains. While living in Zimbabwe he discovered he was on the South African Government hit list. In April 1990 he received a letter bomb in the mail losing both hands, one eye and had his eardrums shattered. He now runs the Institute for Healing Memories in Cape Town."

I went to learn. I went to listen. I went to witness first hand this man who works facilitating people's stories and healing. I went in preparation for my own journey back to South Africa, eleven days from now. I went to align myself with this kind of artful teaching and transformational leadership work. I went and I was blown away.

The resonance of all that Fr. Michael shared was powerful. The convergence of his life story, what he overcame, his working philosophy about story telling and forgiveness -- I found powerfully aligned with my own as teacher, writer, traveler, contemplative.

"Every one has a story to tell" he said. " To have your own story reverenced, recognized, acknowledged, given a moral containment," is at the heart of reconciliation and transformation. In Fr. Lapsley's words, I heard the essential roles we play as teachers, healers, as priests, as nuns, as leaders, who are working to see the thriving of all individuals.

Father underscored the difference between having knowledge of circumstances and acknowledging what occurs or has occurred. Like the poet William Stafford conveys in his poem "Ritual to Read to each Other" - there is a cruelty-- or a kind of perpetuation of the sorrow, the horror, a crime --when something isn't fully recognized. The distinction between knowing and acknowledging is an active listening one, an active reverence, an acknowledgement of what someone has lived through, and survived.

In that room at Bethel, I could hear my North High students when Fr. Lapsley was talking. I could hear their stories. I could hear the spoken word poets I have had the privilege of knowing and coaching and learning from. I could hear my colleagues in urban education. I could hear friends who try to reconcile poverty and privilege. I felt the truth, the weight, the power of what he was saying.

To simply acknowledge what occurs is to powerfully honor and reverence another's journey, an overcoming, a movement toward healing. It's a step toward transforming and healing a nation.

Can you imagine this in your own life? Can you imagine what it would be to be fully seen? Fully heard? Can you imagine your family? Can you imagine this in your work? Can you envision the implications in your community? In your nation? What about the world? Who are we when we acknowledge fully what occurs? What would mean to first and foremost simply see, name what is taking place?

Just some thoughts, as I make way for Africa, continue working on this book, and reflect on transformational models of teaching, learning, leadership in our world today.


South African Reconciliation Studies Grad Student, Program and Projects Director,
Seth Naicker

Fr. Lapsley was always to check our listening, by listening to us....
Thulani Xaba, Healing of Memories Facilitator,
Durban, South Africa

While I document, Thulani slips me his contact info.

Thulani talks about "making safe space" so that "all stories can be told, heard."


Julia Dinsmore said...

I'm going to forward this one to EVERYONE I know!
Keep on keepin on friend!!
Love you,

Julia Dinsmore Minneapolis Mn. c. 763-210-8141

"Justice is what love looks like in public."
Cornel West

If not we...then who? {will end poverty}
Archbishop Harry Flynn

Sr. Rafael Tilton said...

Dear Melissa
Thank you for this powerful recap ofo Fr. Lapsley's talk.
Peace and All Good
Sr. Rafael