The modern history of South Africa has been a compelling and astonishing one. From the system of apartheid, with its inherent racism, accompanied by atrocities of the most horrendous kinds on both sides of the racial divide, a unified nation arose without a violent takeover or civil war. The rest of the world watched in awe as lengthy queues of people waited to change their nation at the ballot box and appoint Nelson Mandela as president of a multiracial parliament in 1993.
Part of the process of stabilizing the new nation was to appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to address the atrocities which had occurred in the recent past. The aim of the commission was to allow those who had been wronged to tell their stories, as a matter of justice, and for perpetrators to acknowledge what they had done. Its aim was not to incarcerate criminals but to promote healing, peace and unity.
Archbishop Tutu has written extensively about these events and is in a unique position to pen a book about forgiveness. Together with his daughter Mpho, herself an ordained Episcopal minister, Archbishop Tutu has authored a book which contains many stories about personal experiences in South Africa and elsewhere. Mpho contributes an account of how tragedy affected her own family and the process which they had to experience in dealing with it.
Forgiveness can easily be misunderstood by those who are grappling with it, and the authors provide insight into what forgiveness is, and what it is not, and who it is for. They then provide a system of steps of forgiveness which they term “The Fourfold Path”. The four steps comprise Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship. Specific chapters take the reader through this process step by step. The book concludes with chapters which address the issue from the other side – what to do if you have wronged someone else and are the one needing forgiveness, and the importance of forgiving oneself.
This book is clearly written and presented. At the end of each chapter there are summaries of the main points therein and a short meditative verse which reads somewhat like a prayer. The reader is invited into the process of forgiveness with specific tasks and exercises at each step of the journey. These include journaling, visualisation exercises and use of concrete objects.
If I have any reservation about this book it is that it is written by Christian ministers, but is without any direct reference to the forgiveness of God and His directions for us to forgive others. A whole dimension of the grace that can only be imparted through the Holy Spirit is missing. The book has probably been penned so as to be available to many people of varying faiths or no faith at all, and as such will probably be used by a wider readership that an overtly Christian resource. The widespread reputation of Archbishop Tutu and the respect that he commands will no doubt encourage readers to delve into this area that affects so many and the exercises will certainly promote psychological wellness. One can only hope that because it is written by Christian ministers, the reader will be encouraged to further investigate Christianity and the aspects of our faith that promote further healing – prayer, Bible reading, fellowship in community, worship, the counselling of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This book is a worthy starting point for personal study and growth and can certainly help the reader to step away from a path of bitterness and futile revenge onto another path, one of hope and peace. It’s not an end in itself, but an invitation to step into another course. The steps one takes after closing the final chapter are up to oneself.
“The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond M.Tutu and Mpho A.Tutu , William Collins 2014.