A Meditation on Forgiveness

Prison_Sophias_Pockets

Today’s post takes wisdom beyond walls from a metaphor to a reality. Antonio Turner is incarcerated within the Pennsylvania prison system. In this post, Antonio shares his ideas on pain, forgiveness and ultimately, redemption. Antonio have his permission to post this via written letter from inside prison. 

By: Antonio Turner

Quietly I calm my breathing. I relax, struggling to delve my mind into the most intrinsic core of my being. On a trek to forgive my mother remains the unconquerable hurdle on this journey. Why is it so difficult?

Although I have forgiven her from a cognitive standpoint, her rejection still lingers forming a cesspool in my mind: inside an already toxic and overflowing subconscious. Trying to contain the unrestrained resentment bubbling to the surface makes it hard to steady my mind on the difficult task ahead. The forgiveness process, for me, has not been a nourishing act from the heart. Yet since this betrayal and abandonment continue to be a taunting fact of my life, groveling about the matter will get me absolutely nothing!

So today as I ponder my life during a spell of meditation, the hold this unconquerable hurtle has on my heart is becoming a cancer. I sit paralyzed with fear – in my late forties – tormented by these feelings which have a direct effect on other women in my life.

As I secretly detest my mother for the immeasurable mental, physical and emotional pain she inflicted, my body tenses. I call God into my meditative space for help – to relax, to comfort and to guide.

I pray the combination of God and opening up my heart to Him will release the hurt carried every day. I so desire the fetters which have kept my mind in chains for the better part of three decades to be loosened – to release their grip on me. Since I was a little boy, I’ve prayed for this. Maybe I’m a dreamer, thinking, hoping this can happen.

            Blue stars, a gleam of hope

            Galaxies of complicated thought.

            Spheres of emotional entanglement

            A calloused heart full of rings and knots.

On bended knees, if I were only able to open my heart wide enough – seeking a depth of understanding more powerful than sight, I pray. I ask God to give me a comforting lens to examine my bitterness.

Maybe through the lens of forgiveness, I could’ve seen how she only acted out of her own pain – being a victim of domestic violence herself. She was an innocent floundering in her own torrent of pain. My meditation moves towards removing my selfishness, yet was it unreasonable for a child to want to be wrapped in the love of his mother? I don’t know. I’m just a dreamer.

 

My imagination has a tendency to run away from me. Through the prism of compassion can my prayers cause me to see my mother trying her very best? How can you shower affection when you are dealing with your own deep wounds, ones skewered and damaged by love itself?

By the grace of God, I’m now able to recognize her rejection actually had nothing to do with me. Her own woundedness prevented her from being able to love herself. With that emptiness piercing her soul, how could she truly love her own child?

Within my prayers, I ask, “How can I detest someone with so much visceral pain? With no self-love, wasn’t it impossible for her to love me?” I craved that love so much, which is why I pray for forgiveness now.

Guided by a beacon of light from my heavenly Father, I sit creating a sculpture with my words. I’m the one who needs to beg for forgiveness. As I fix my gaze on a starless sky – witnessing the clouds finally freeing the moon – suddenly the gates of my heart spring open. Could this be the first step to free my own hurt permanently?

As I end my prayer, I realize every present moment is an opportunity for a new beginning. And through the trials of suffering, the soul learns wisdom and compassion. My time in meditation has taught me it is possible to attain a newfound freedom from the realm of resentment. I don’t want to end this prayer, but know only through God can I release my mother from what she did to me. God provides a new forgiveness process much greater than my pain.

 

If you love me, hold not off.

Today’s post is on the work of Prison Performing Arts, which was featured in this month’s Spare Change Spotlight. Meg Sempreora gives us a small glimpse of the wisdom she has shared and found during her work with incarcerated people at Prison Performing Arts. Meg is also an associate professor and the director of literature emphasis at Webster University.

My first prison class was in a small, warm room.  Thirty-one men had given up Monday Night Football to sit in little plastic chairs, each balancing a book and a pad on his lap. They looked a bit like visiting parents in a classroom of small chairs.  The men fully ringed the room, backing up against the chalkboard.

I almost missed this experience, this most rewarding of teaching.  I almost said “no” to the men and women so hungry for this opportunity, citizens who will one day be out in the world with us. I initially thought that my privileged background disqualified me as a source of knowledge for these students.  But because I said “yes” I have experienced—at three Missouri prisons—some of the most rewarding teaching of my life.  As part of Prison Performing Arts, a non-profit organization created by one amazing woman, Agnes Wilcox I began teaching in 2000 with Act 2 of Hamlet, and have now worked on Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Oedipus RexOedipus at Colonus, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest,Gogol’s The Inspector General, and Mary Zimmerman’s contemporary interpretation of Ovid’s The Metamorphoses. As this particular team of actors was not only untrained in acting, but also almost entirely unfamiliar with Shakespeare, a few volunteer professors from St. Louis universities provided seminars throughout the semester on the world of the Renaissance and Shakespeare in particular, on acting and speech, and especially on reading the language of the play. One or two acts of a play is studied for a full semester, bringing the men deeper and deeper into an understanding, not only of the language, characters, and themes of the drama, but also of themselves.

The scholarly seminars are followed by casting and an intense rehearsal period with Agnes, a professional theater director: each line is examined; speeches are memorized; and men practice in the yard and in their cells; Agnes gathers costumes from willing donors or second-hand stores; and finally three performances crown the semester’s work. Fellow inmates attend on the first two evenings, then family, friends, and supporters of Prison Performing Arts from St. Louis.

My self-doubts were answered that first evening; the men taught me so much with their earnest hunger, courtesy, and dauntless willingness to repeat countless times, “What does that mean?”  What I learned that first night and have confirmed after  thirteen years of teaching dramatic literature in Missouri prisons is that I need to ask difficult, interesting questions—the same ones that I ask my undergrads; I need to listen hard when my incarcerated students answer, because they will offer answers that I have not heard before.  Their answers come from a deeper place, or a more remote place, or a hungrier place.

 If you love me, hold not off.

Every class is filled with moments of discovery, of drama.  During that first class, the students were reading one sentence each around the circle in order to hear Shakespeare’s language, ask questions, learn vocabulary, and pull everybody into the enterprise of making meaning.  Many of the men are not readers, and this story is about one such student.  I shall call him Tom.  It was Act 2.2, and Hamlet, not sure whom he can trust, is urging his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to level with him and tell him if they really came on their own to visit him, or, if they were sent for by King Claudius to spy on him.  (We know that R & G were brought there to be spies.  We watch Hamlet deeply hurt, discovering his friends’ betrayal.)

We moved around the circle slowly reading the scene—Hamlet keeps probing; R &G keep evading his questions. When Tom’s turn came, an urgent line of Hamlet’s fell to him. Hamlet pleads with his old friends to level with him.

Tom looked hard at his book and read his line silently, then looked up and, speaking directly to the next man in the circle, who turned to face him—as if they were alone reading the scene—Tom said, simply, deeply, “If you love me, hold not off.” The men were silent for a moment.  They had heard not just the words, but also the meaning: Hamlet is a man asking for the truth from his friends; he is invoking their love for him as a righteous means to that truth. Hamlet’s unguarded, honest moment became Tom’s own unguarded moment. As a brave, engaged reader, he risked saying “If you love me” without a smirk, without an embarrassed chuckle, and, because of his effort, the class took a leap.  They all understand conning, betrayal, and the need for true friends. The nature of Rosencrantz and Guildenster ’s possible turning point—from paid deception back to friendship— was made clear to the men in the room by Tom’s authentic line reading. The stakes for these false friends were high: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do “hold off”; they continue on their course of deception and ultimately they perish.

I am grateful that I said “yes” to this experience.  “If you love me, hold not off” my students say to me with their desire to learn and, as adequately as I can, I have answered.

 

Prison Performing Arts in the Spare Change Spotlight

Today, we introduce another great organization that could use your spare change. Prison Performing Arts fuses creativity and service in a way that reaches beyond individual creativity towards a larger sense of wisdom and love. 

Prison Performing Arts is a 21-year-old, multi-discipline, literacy and performing arts program that serves incarcerated adults and children. In Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A, Prison Performing Arts works with incarcerated people to write poems, perform Shakespeare and much more.

The work of Prison Performing Arts is the embodiment of creativity infused with service, community and spirit.  But don’t take our word for it. Below you will find the poem of Marcia, which was taken from the inspiring Prison Performing Arts blog, and tomorrow Dr. Margot Sempreora will share her journey working as a teacher with Prison Performing Arts. Financial donations can be made through the Prison Performing Arts website or by mail and you can contact them directly to become involved in person if you live in the Saint Louis area.

“Sound Advice” 
By: Marcia

Aim high
Follow your arrow
wherever it points
Sing your heart out
Love who you love
no matter what
Do what the hell you want to do
since everyone will have their
opinion either way.
Push the envelope
all the way to the addressee
Don’t let judgmental people
or your own inhibitions
throw you off track
Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
or kiss lots of girls if that’s what you like
but love yourself
because it’s better to be hated for
who you are than loved for who you are not.