When Reconciliation Is Impossible

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Chalice Lighting

With this light, let’s great and embrace the opportunity of a new day
Life doesn’t always go the way we hope
It rarely goes the way we plan
But each morning brings new possibility
Maybe not to have the story end the way we want
But a new chance and new chances
For joy
For peace
And for love

Reading: From Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
Act 5 scene 7
Words of Macduff (Macduff has come to find and confront Macbeth)

That way the noise is.
Tyrant, show thy face!
If thou be'st slain and with no stroke of mine,
My wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still.
I cannot strike at wretched kerns, whose arms
Are hired to bear their staves: either thou, Macbeth,
Or else my sword with an unbatter'd edge
I sheathe again undeeded.
There thou shouldst be;
By this great clatter, one of greatest note seems bruited.
Let me find him, fortune!
And more I beg not.

Message Part 1 by Rev Andy Pakula

I would like to tell you a story that I think we all need to hear. But it would be a story that doesn’t seem to exist - probably a story that is too depressing for this setting. It’s a story that involves conflict and hurt and anger. Every story Tom or I tell you seems to end up in a similar way - a happy ending. I like a happy ending very much and I want a world where happy endings are not only possible but well within our ability to create. At the end of the usual story then, the protagonists and antagonists manage to overcome their conflicts and hard feelings and become friends. They have found their commonality. They have engaged their compassion and understood the causes of the other’s behaviour.

Yes, there are some stories - Shakespeare’s tragedies for example, that end with no great moment of peace-making and reconciliation. Macbeth kills the king. Macbeth is killed by Macduff. It’s resolved but certainly not reconciled. After all the blood and scheming, Shakespeare was not about to have Macbeth and Macduff sitting down in a pub or with a candle in a small group and have great compassionate understanding and ‘sorry for killing your wife and children’ and ‘oh, I understand you were suffering yourself’ and a big hug.

We’ve been talking about reconciliation this quarter and will be finishing this theme next week. When we’ve talked about conflict and relationship, it’s been about how we can understand one another, how we can end conflict, how we can apologise sincerely, and how we can forgive fully. And it is not at all fair or realistic to talk about reconciliation without talking about when reconciliation is not possible or even desirable. This is important because we know that in our own lives and in the histories of humans and nations and in politics, the ideal does not always happen.

Difficult things happen between human beings. Some of them can not be reconciled. There are acts so unforgivable that reconciliation is not possible. Relationship can become so hostile and vicious that there can be no turning back. Sometimes it is about safety: It can be abusive to suggest - as some religions have - that abusers should be given another chance and another and another. This is asking the abused party - usually a woman - to put their sanity, their health, and their very life in danger. Even without danger, how many times should one forgive and try again after being mistreated again and again. There are also those times when, even if we could imagine the potential for reconciliation, it becomes impossible because of distance or death.

Reconciliation can be impossible and one or both or many parties will need to go about their lives without that hope of resolution - often carrying anger, shame, hurt, guilt, or simply a sense of having failed to save an important relationship in their lives.

If reconciliation is so important to us, how can we go on when it is beyond our reach or ability? Then, we need to think about reconciliation in a different way.

Reading: Ways of Talking, By Ha Jin

We used to like talking about grief
Our journals and letters were packed
with losses, complaints, and sorrows.
Even if there was no grief
we wouldn’t stop lamenting
as though longing for the charm
of a distressed face.
Then we couldn’t help expressing grief
So many things descended without warning:
labor wasted, loves lost, houses gone,
marriages broken, friends estranged,
ambitions worn away by immediate needs.
Words lined up in our throats
for a good whining.
Grief seemed like an endless river—
the only immortal flow of life.
After losing a land and then giving up a tongue,
we stopped talking of grief
Smiles began to brighten our faces.
We laugh a lot, at our own mess.
Things become beautiful,
even hailstones in the strawberry fields.

Message Part 2 by Rev Andy Pakula

I never had a good relationship with my father. My parents divorced when I was a young teen and from then on, what little connection I had with him all but vanished. It was an acrimonious divorce and that didn’t help matters. My sister and I were pawns in the battle between our parents. When we did see him, the air of conflict was always present. But this wasn’t the core of the challenge. My father is strange. He is not warm. He tends to be sarcastic and cutting when he interacts. I imagine he is terribly anxious but I don’t know because we could never talk that openly and honestly.

Through the years, I made various attempts at reconciliation - I tried to create a relationship with him. Because of who he is and because of circumstances including his second wife and family, it always came to nought. Despite this, I always carried a tiny bit of hope that that someday we would have time together and that wonderful, one-to-one, open-hearted conversation would happen. We would cry and embrace.

My father now has severe dementia. From what I am told, he would not recognise me. The tiny hope of reconciliation has been snuffed out. I will never have the kind of relationship with my father that I would have liked - I will never have anything like it. I might feel angry, sad, resentful…

Whenever reconciliation is not possible, we carry around feelings like these and we can add guilt, abandonment, self-loathing, and hatred into the mix. A different kind of reconciliation is possible even when building or restoring a relationship is not possible. We need to reconcile within ourselves.

I need to reconcile to the fact that my father has been throughout my life a deeply flawed individual unable to be the kind of father I would have wanted. I can recognise him as a man who lost the opportunity to know me, care for me, and be cared for by me. A man who has been unable to have deep, vulnerable, open-hearted relationships. And that is a tragedy - one on the scale of Macbeth. Knowing this, my compassion for him grows and my anger diminishes. My sense of inadequacy eases. My compassion for myself expands. I was not abandoned by him - he was not capable of anything else.

There is room for self-reconciliation even when reconciliation with another is not safe, reasonable, or possible. This reconciliation is with what we ourselves carry. A good place to begin is with loving kindness, as in the song we just sang that is based on a Buddhist practice. Can we offer sincere and deeply-felt wishes of peace, ease, and wholeness to ourselves, to the person who harmed us, to the person we have harmed? Can we find forgiveness in our hearts for ourselves and for others? We can not find peace until we do.

Even when reconciliation is impossible between, reconciliation can be secured within. Eventually, Ha Jin writes:
‘we stopped talking of grief
Smiles began to brighten our faces.
We laugh a lot, at our own mess.
Things become beautiful,’

Even if we cannot reconcile what has been broken between, we can reconcile within. We can replace shame with self-acceptance, replace anger with compassion, and replace hate with love. May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be whole.


What in your life has not been reconciled between you and others? How can you begin to find reconciliation within yourself?

Closing Words by Rev Andy Pakula

The stories of our lives do not always have ideal endings.
Despite our commitment and best intentions, we can not always find reconciliation between ourselves and others.
And yet, we do not have to carry the heavy burdens of all that is unreconciled.
The true work is within.
The true work is love - to ourselves and to the other.
May it be so.