For several years I have been drawn to the story of the Cathars – a mystical and therefore “heretical” group of medieval Christians across southwestern France (and elsewhere) who were wiped out by a vicious crusade and inquisition over a couple of decades in the first half of the 13th century. From what I can tell, many of their beliefs quite closely parallel some of mine. Peter and I just visited Montségur, site of the last stand of the Cathars, who were cloistered in a castle at the top of a “pog,” a very tall outcropping of rock. At the end of a 9-month siege, the 220 or so who refused to renounce their faith were burned en masse in a bonfire at the base.
The trail was too steep and slippery for me to climb more than a short distance, but Peter went to the top. Sitting just above the base, near a placard commemorating the site of the burning, I tapped into a tremendous grief, and spent my time practicing forgiveness and acceptance, releasing judgment, anger, fear and guilt for all of the similar stories throughout our world’s history. I must say that I am struck by the awareness that ISIS is doing nothing new, nothing that hasn’t been done for centuries, and done in the name of religion (a word whose earliest roots apparently have nothing to do with Spirit but with obligation and binding). But I also was struck by how the same story plays out on much smaller, even interpersonal scales. I am aware that I’m participating in that story whenever I judge anyone for their actions that are contrary to my values and customs, by which I expect them to be bound.
Even as I strive to live in forgiveness and acceptance, I still find myself angered by what happened to the Cathars and so many other persecuted groups, by the acts of ISIS, by the massacre in Charleston. In my heart of hearts, I believe there is a need for action, yet I also believe that if that action is driven by anger, it will only bring more anger in response. There is an inner source of strength, that of what I consider a Spiritual Warrior, which transcends anger and judgment and moves into powerful transformative action. It may look the same from the outside, but it is motivated by love, not by fear and not by self-righteousness or a sense of superiority or entitlement. I have experienced it fleetingly, but others have demonstrated it strongly. I don’t pretend to know what the actions are that are required. But my prayer is that I, and you and all of us, may find that place of strength to know and to act - not in retribution but in transformation - so that these stories may finally come to an end.