Seeds is now also available in a PDF format that can be printed, saved, or shared. Click on the link above.

Our theme for this issue is something sorely needed but in short supply in our ever-more divided world: Forgiveness. The Seeds committee is grateful to the Quaker community of Monteverde for wrestling with this intensely personal, innately complicated, and, at times, painful subject. As in life, nothing rewarding or healing seems to come without struggle and surrender. Unforgiveness is one of those insidious things that can take root within us and, if not dealt with, become a part of us—a weight that becomes our duty to carry. In most cases, however, the person or thing we struggle to forgive is either no longer living or perhaps sailing through life oblivious or indifferent to our self-imposed crusade. Very often, we are the only ones affected by our struggle to forgive. Author Anne Lamott writes, “I really believe that earth is forgiveness school—I really believe that’s why they brought us here, and then left us without any owner’s manual. I think we’re here to learn forgiveness. …To forgive someone is the hardest work we do.”

In this issue, we are introduced to Katherine Leiton and Philip Adams, and Philip shares why we shouldn’t necessarily forgive and forget. Harriet Joslin and Kay Chornook each explore the process of moving through forgiveness—either by letting go or making amends. A poem by Hazel Guindon highlights the importance of forgiving and accepting yourself. Jennie Mollica shares the complicated feelings around forgiveness she experienced while living in Vietnam. Old Testament scholar Eric Ellison reflects on his Ph.D. studies about the biblical difference between forgivable and unforgivable sin. Finally, we also have an update from former Seeds committee member and Monteverde resident Tim Lietzke and his journey to discover communal living in the United States.

In coming issues, Seeds will begin to highlight the SPICES of Quaker life. These core values make up our living testimony. The acronym SPICES refers to: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship/Sustainability. In May, our topic will be Simplicity. Send us your essays, poetry, artwork, photography, or interviews on the role of Simplicity in your life. Anyone, Quaker or not, may send submissions to the Seeds e-mail address: Deadline for submissions is April 30.

Table of Contents

Introducing Katherine Leiton and Philip Adams

Hello! We are Katherine and Phil! We are so happy to be a part of this beautiful, loving, and supportive community of Monteverde! We are not exactly new to the community. Katherine is a member of the lovely Leiton family and was born and raised in Monteverde, learning from its people and nature for many years. Phil, being from Canada, has been a visitor here for several years but has made Monteverde home for the past two years. Even more significantly, we have decided to call Monteverde home together, as this is where we will grow our current family of two.

Of course, living here involves much more than the two of us, whether it is the deeply reliable and empowering group of Katherine’s relatives or the many friends we have made here who teach us what it means to contribute to and grow a community such as this. We are blessed beyond words to be surrounded by such trailblazers in the fields of community outreach, nature preservation, spirituality, and biological research. And so, with deep empathy and passion for animal rights and well-being, as well as the goal of bringing awareness to assisting the forest’s ability to thrive along with all the life it supports, we want to continue to do our part in sharing the beauty of Monteverde with visitors and locals alike. By continuing to do so, we hope to spark a passion in others for a love of nature and the protection of these treasured resources. Thank you, Monteverde community members, for making the world a better place and including us in this admirable aspiration!

[table of contents]

Forgive and Remember

By Philip Adams

Let’s talk about forgiveness—specifically self-forgiveness. And what a perfect time to do so. As a new year begins, perhaps there are thoughts and feelings we need to release in order to free ourselves to pursue our new resolutions. When I think about it, forgiveness seems to be a sort of superpower; it has the power to free us from our unjustified expectations of others. When we forgive others, we empower them to enter back into our lives as we remain open to developing stronger relationships and connections. Perhaps then, if we can apply that same power of forgiveness to ourselves, we can also grow in relation to our individuality and free ourselves to chase new horizons instead of being burdened by past regrets.

A common distinction comes to mind, that of forgiving and that of forgetting. “Forgive and forget,” where did this concept come from? Whatever its origin, reflecting on it now, I find great significance in it, especially in relation to self-forgiveness. Because although self-forgiveness can free us from the weight of regret, completely forgetting why regret or past preoccupations came up may leave us prone to repeating the very thoughts and actions that got us there in the first place.

And so, as I embark into this new year, I will attempt to exercise self-forgiveness, but I will avoid forgetting. Perhaps a better way of putting it: I will aim to maintain self-awareness. In theory, if I can alleviate my attachment to the anxieties of regret by forgiving myself while at the same time remembering the actions, moments, and decisions that made me feel that way, I may further empower myself with the wisdom to not only avoid similar pitfalls but also the ability to improve upon methods and reactions I may have taken that I have come to regret.

To close this thought rant of self-forgiveness, it seems the empowering nature of forgiveness, and in particular, self-forgiveness, may point us to the positive side of regret, which is the fact that it can give us the wisdom to grow without the restraint put on us by the anxiety of regret. So let us approach this brand-new year full of hope, liberated from the weight of what we may think has been holding us back through the past year, and be guided by the wisdom that we are a little bit more experienced to deal with the twists and turns life has to offer.

God bless and Godspeed in this Happy New Year.

[table of contents]

“Forgive and Forget? No. If you Forget, then there can be no real Forgiveness.”


Forgiveness, at Last

By Kay Chornook

In 1997, I was fired from a job that I loved—no warning, no explanation, the termination sent by letter in the post. I think dismissals were being handled this way in corporate settings, but this job was at a summer camp, a bush community I lived in and was part of for several years. The man who fired me was a close friend, coworker, and boss. The shock of it, the feeling of betrayal, and the pain it caused, bookended by the death of my parents in the same period, stayed with me for a very long time. I did not forget, and I could not forgive. Time dulled the sharpness and worked to erase the memory, though anytime the man’s name came up, I felt the harsh sting of bitterness that remained inside me.

Twenty-three years later, in 2020, I received another letter, this time by email, equally as surprising. It was a letter of apology from the person who had fired me. He began by saying he had heard I had sent him greetings through a mutual friend (which I hadn’t so there is some alchemy involved) and now he was taking the opportunity to do something he knew he should have done many years ago. He explained that he knew he was wrong to fire me, especially in that cold manner, had taken bad advice and realized very quickly that he had made a mistake but had not until now, reached out to me. In a conversation through emails, we didn’t pick over the details, largely forgotten over time, but we did reach a place of comfort. And I forgave him.

In the summer of 2022, this man passed away relatively quickly from pancreatic cancer. I had not had the chance to see him since his apology, largely due to Covid restrictions. What I did understand was how forgiving him affected my reaction to his death. I am quite sure that without the forgiveness, I would have expressed my sympathies to his family who I am still close to, with words that acknowledged their loss but not his value. But because of his act of kindness in apologizing to me, after all those years, and my response of forgiving, after years of carrying some seed of resentment, I felt true loss and lingered awhile in that murky pond of grief. As I read the many tributes to him, I was able to appreciate him, not resent him. I am so very thankful that forgiveness had come to me. It made all that came after much more loving.

[table of contents]

Letting Go

By Harriet Joslin

Forgiveness is a concept I have thought about from many perspectives over the years: childhood hurts, thoughtless words or deeds, personal betrayals, and working with clients deeply wounded by unspeakable acts. Relationships can be messy. We all are harmed in small ways, some are harmed in grave ways, and we all cause harm from time to time, either inadvertently or on purpose. That is part of living.

Popular “wisdom” says forgiveness is the path to personal growth, to becoming a better person. And yet, frequently the word is used to describe a one-way process, putting the task of pardoning on the victim* with no requirement of any reciprocal effort from the wrong-doer. That, in my mind, minimalizes the value of real forgiveness.

Sometimes for the victim to begin to forgive, they might need to confront the wrongdoer and tell them what they did and the harm it caused. This can be very difficult, and the person may need the love and support of others. Indeed, if the victim is deeply wounded it can require a lot of guidance, support, and a long, long time. When the wrongdoer truthfully acknowledges what they did and responds with humility and true repentance, both they and the victim can reconcile their differences and experience empathy, each for the other. It doesn’t mean the act is forgotten, or even that the two can resume a meaningful relationship, but the act can be put in the past so that both can move forward.

Acknowledging harm and admitting hurtful mistakes whether intentional or not, can take immense courage and painful self-examination, not to mention potential humiliation or consequences. When the wrong-doer does come forth with that humility and repentance and the victim cannot enter into the process of forgiving with them, then both can be damaged. But the work of true repentance and atonement is a whole other subject.

I think what is often meant by the word forgiveness is what I prefer to call “letting go,” which can be very freeing. Holding on to hurt, whether it is active or more on an unconscious level, can cause painful damage, often leading the victim to react with anger or revenge, damaging how they relate to others. Sometimes there is no opportunity or safe space for confronting the wrongdoer, so the true forgiveness I’ve described isn’t possible.

Letting go of harm allows the victim to put the act in the past, to recognize that it is over and no longer has power over them. Working through this process of letting go allows us to heal and learn to recognize situations that may put us in harm’s way. Hopefully, we become more aware of how we may harm others and perhaps even become inspired to work toward righting wrongs done to others. These steps can be personally, emotionally, and relationally liberating in so many ways.  

As I write, I cannot think of anyone or anything that I am holding on to with anger or malice and I am immensely grateful for being in that space.

*I use the word victim for lack of a better word, recognizing that often people who are harmed do not consider themselves to remain victims.

[table of contents]

“Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love.”

Fred rogers (mister rogers)

Forgive Myself

i close my eyes and whisper while embracing my heart.
i forgive myself. i choose to BE my first safe space.

i deeply love myself.
i own my past, present and future.
i choose to believe and honor my truth.

i then open my eyes and everything has become blissful.
i was forgiven, when there was nothing to forgive.

i then forgive, even when there is nothing to forgive.
i let go of the resentment that is no longer mine.

I stay with love

Hazel Guindon

[table of contents]

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

oscar Wilde

Ancient Israelite Forgiveness

By Eric Ellison, Ph.D.

Tiffani and Eric Ellison with their daughters (l to r) Katia, Tabitha, and Abigail.

Forgiveness was important in ancient Israel. They believed God is fundamentally forgiving. They sang about it in their poetry: “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you” (Psalm 86:5). They recorded in their narrative God’s self-description: “…keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:7). And when we come to the priestly literature, we see forgiveness repeated frequently in relation to the sacrificial system at the sanctuary, in places like Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:16, 18 and Numbers 15:25, 28. The disquieting part of each of these verses listed is that the sin to be forgiven is described in Hebrew as being committed shegagah, usually translated in English as “unintentionally” or “inadvertently.” In fact, Numbers 15:28 directly contrasts shegagah sins with high-handed sin, which is unforgivable. If high-handed sin is intentional sin, then the only thing that makes sin forgivable is if it is committed unintentionally. Who can claim to have never sinned intentionally? The Spanish por yerro (“by mistake”) is no better, for the honest among us will admit not every sin we are guilty of was a mistake. Some, at least, were planned. So, did the ancient Israelite sanctuary system allow for forgiveness only when people did not know the action was wrong or when they did not mean to do it?

The problem traces back to translation. As we can see in the verses cited above, a lot of the places where shegagah appears are in Leviticus 4. The sins described in this chapter are clearly inadvertent. It says the matter was hidden from the culprit and then it becomes known to him. (See Leviticus 4:13–14, 23, 28.) Clearly, these are cases in which someone did a wrong action but either did not realize it at the time or forgot it. A person can bring a sacrifice to the sanctuary and be forgiven only after the culprit realizes the action committed was wrong. Because of Leviticus 4, translators have used words like unintentional or por yerro to communicate this kind of inadvertent sin. Then they assume that any time shegagah appears, it must mean only unintentional sin.

This assumption is incorrect. The Hebrew Bible uses this same word elsewhere to mean “stray” or “wander.” Isaiah 28:7 uses this word to describe those who “stray” with wine and “wander with strong drink.” Proverbs 5:19–23 uses the word to describe a married man who wanders after another woman and his life spirals downward to his death. His epitaph in verse 23 is “in his great folly, he went astray.” Proverbs is counting on the reader not wanting such an inscription on his tombstone. It is clearly seen in Ezekiel 34:6: “My sheep strayed on all the mountains and over all the high hills.” It is not even the sheep’s fault. Ezekiel blames the bad leadership of the shepherds. Psalm 119:67 even shows that straying is not permanent: “Before I was afflicted, I strayed, now I keep your word.” Finally, in 1 Samuel 26:21, King Saul describes his murderous crusade to kill David: “Look, I was foolish and wandered greatly.” Shegagah is a good word to describe a king straying all over the nation after a fugitive for no good reason. This last example illustrates that such straying can be very intentional. Saul did not accidently or unintentionally try to murder David. Translators have seen these passages as referring to straying but argue that in priestly law the term means “inadvertent.” Is there a passage that can help us to define what shegagah means in Levitical literature?

There is just such a text in Numbers 15:22–31. It uses the word nine times describing sins that are forgivable through sacrifice and outlines what to do if the whole congregation sins shegagah. If they follow correct sacrificial procedure, the priest can make atonement and they receive forgiveness. Verses 27–31 explain what an individual sinner must do to receive forgiveness, but they are in the form of an either/or statement. The sinner either commits the misdeed shegagah or with a high hand (beyad ramah). High-handed sins are unforgivable; straying sins are forgivable. This is the definitive passage to help us understand what shegagah means in priestly law. Whatever sin is not done with a high hand is “straying” and thus forgivable. So, what is high-handed sin?

This phrase “high-handed” is used twice to describe how Israel went out of Egypt during the Exodus, in Exodus 14:8, and Numbers 33:3. Clearly, leaving Egypt, they were permanently breaking a relationship. When Jeroboam split ten tribes away from the house of David and formed the northern kingdom of Israel, separate from Judah in the south, 1 Kings 11:26–27 says twice that “he raised his hand against the king.” This is so clearly a case of rebellious defiance that most translations do not say “raised his hand” but translate the phrase as “rebelled.” The Hebrew word for rebellion appears at the end of the story in the summary: “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (1 Kings 12:19). Everywhere the phrase “high-handed” appears in the Bible, it describes someone or some group showing defiant independence or rebellion. It always indicates a permanent break in relationship.

An either/or statement always includes 100 percent of the options. Something can be either wet or dry. Something could be merely damp, moist, waterlogged, or soaking wet, but none of them are dry. Only something totally dry is not at all wet. If “high-handed” means permanent rebellion and defiance then shegagah must mean any action that is not permanently defiant.

Now we should return to Leviticus 4. We mentioned that sinners might realize their guilt, but we overlooked that verses 23 and 28 also give the option that the sin is “made known” to the sinner. The ancient Greek translation of such situations says, “on the day he is convicted.” This suggests that sometimes sinners were reluctant or even belligerent about admitting they were wrong. Deuteronomy 17:8–20 describes the Hebrew courts. If someone wronged you, you should talk it out, one on one. If that fails, you can take them to the elders for judgment. If that still fails, you could go to the king, who, in consultation with the priests, would give a final ruling. We have all known stubborn or belligerent people who are slow to admit their own wrongs. The Levitical system was built to offer forgiveness even to the most uncooperative individuals. As long as they are still “straying,” they might be brought back to the path. Even after multiple people have failed to get through to them.

In ancient Israel, people were sometimes selfish, stubborn, and sinful, but as long as they had not become permanently defiant, there was hope for their forgiveness. It would be well for us to consider this kind of approach to wrongdoing. As long as people are straying from the goal but have not permanently given up, they may find their way back, or may be brought back by others—friends, leaders, or even courts. Forgiveness was available to anyone who was willing to stop straying from the path and sincerely wanted to return. How would our society function if we were equally willing to work with the stubborn and belligerent? Even when we plan to sin and it is not a mistake, forgiveness is available.

[table of contents]

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Lewis b. Smedes

An Invitation to Forgive

By Jennie Mollica

In 1994, when I was twenty-three and the war was that long past, I arrived in Vietnam as a volunteer English teacher. The department chair at the Hue Teacher Training College welcomed me and asked for classes in American Pronunciation, American Literature, and American Culture. He assumed my expertise in these topics, but I was doubtful. I had never taught a classroom of students. I thought:

            I’m sorry for having no training in teaching.

            Pardon my poor Vietnamese language and my funny clothes.

            Forgive me for the American War.

My students were nearly my age, born shortly after the Fall of Saigon. Thirsty for learning English, they dreamed of becoming teachers themselves, or of working in Ho Chi Minh City for an international company. America was where their uncles and cousins lived in big houses, drove cars, and visited Disneyland. The war hovered in the background like a phantom. It was the reason why Tran’s uncle lived in California, Bich’s father spent years in a re-education camp, and boiled cassava recalled a time when rice was scarce. While these tales surfaced around me, I was garnered with respect and gratitude for being an English teacher. Perhaps this was a new era, a new generation. Who was I to ask for forgiveness?

I took the train north during the school vacation, using my emerging Vietnamese to talk with anyone I met. In a small mountain town not far from Hanoi, I pulled up a tiny bench in front of a noodle vendor and asked for a bowl of hot soup. The woman stirred the pot she sat beside and poked at the fire below it. As she lifted noodles into a bowl with chopsticks and arranged fresh herbs on top, we smiled at each other and she asked where I was from.

“Nguoi my,” I said. American.

She ladled broth on my noodles and said, “Americans bombed my village and killed my family.”

Then she offered me the warm bowl, her glance gentle. My face must have looked pained when I accepted the soup.

“We can’t dwell on the past,” she said. “Better to let go of it.”

She asked why I was there. We talked until my meal was done—about travel, teaching English, learning Vietnamese, and then about her Buddhist faith, her soup business. Still thinking about what this woman had witnessed, I searched in the swirls of my noodles for whom to blame: a soldier in a plane, a general, a country, or myself? The invitation rising from the steaming broth was to forgive.

Back in Hue, I assigned my American Culture students a creative writing project: imagine an American family and tell me about their lives. We had been exploring our understanding of culture and the complexity of cultures in the United States. Many students chose to write about a Vietnamese-American family. They described people who traversed cultural mixing grounds and found a home. It seemed to me we were all floating in this complicated space, making peace with the messiness of it.

One warm spring day, I took a stack of essays to grade while sitting outdoors. I biked through the gates of the Citadel and parked at the edge of the Imperial Palace, where a scattering of crumbling walls sat apart from the better-maintained museum site. I chose a place to perch among the roofless ruins of a room. My head was in my pile of papers when a man walked into the quiet space and stood at its vacant center. He appeared to be a tourist, and I wondered how he had found this less-visited corner. I let him be in silence until his gaze met mine and, surprised to see me there, he said hello. Then a story poured from him, and I listened.

He was last in this room in 1968, but he had dreamed of it nearly every night since. He was tormented by the memories. Today he had returned to face them. He turned to the window in front of him and pointed to the bullet holes still visible below it, beside it, where he had crouched, where he had nearly lost his life, where he positioned his gun, where the soldier beside him had died, where the battle experience marked him and he could never forget the horror. The story rose out of him and settled in the still air of the ruined room. My eyes crept across the walls that surrounded us. The bullet scars were everywhere, reminders of that day. I wouldn’t have seen them myself.

The man stood, taking deep breaths, listening to the quiet. When he looked back at me, he said thank you.

He had needed to return here, and he had needed to tell his story. He had needed someone to listen, and without reason, I had been there.

On the weekends, I often joined a Buddhist group that delivered donated rice to families and temples in the countryside. We would gather in the early morning and make the rounds of houses around the city where for every bowl of rice boiled, one bowlful was scooped raw into a sack for others who had none.

We balanced the sacks of rice on our bicycles and bumped down dirt roads out of the city. We visited a blind man who had no family, only neighbors who stayed close and stocked his kitchen. They all came to greet us and invited us into the man’s tiny house for tea.

We pedaled many miles through stretches of rice fields to a tiny temple where a solitary monk prayed. He accepted our donations of rice and incense with loving smiles.

We visited—not once, but again and again until we were friends—a frail woman who had lost the use of her legs when her fragile home collapsed. She was now tended to by her devoted husband, who cooked for us the most delicious pumpkin pudding.

As we bicycled from house to house, weaving among the green rice fields, I was building the forgiveness I needed.

In 2006, Jennie returned to Hue
and to the home of the crippled woman and her devoted husband.

[table of contents]

Report from New London

By Tim Lietzke

It’s been nearly three months since I left Monteverde to begin a new life at the St. Francis House community in New London, Connecticut. The time has been full and fruitful for me in various ways, but for the community, whose principles are much in line with Quaker testimonies and Third Order Franciscans (Episcopalian and Ecumenical), it has been a difficult time fraught with making a defense against groundless litigation. One complaint has been dismissed and one remains for now. Nevertheless, I have been welcomed open-heartedly. At the same time, consideration is being given to long-term plans, especially in light of the fact that four of the eight of us, including one of the founders, are in our 70s.

We are a racially diverse community—four black and four white. There are two houses, St Francis House and Victory House. Presently there are seven of us living in St. Francis House and the hope is to turn Victory House into a conference center. The first floor of St. Francis House has a chapel, a small living room, a dining room, and two kitchens. The two floors above are bedrooms and bathrooms. I live on the second floor in the room next to Cal Robertson’s room. He suffers the mental and emotional harm caused by the Vietnam War. He also has diabetes and must use a walker and a portable wheelchair. His war experience turned him to peace activism, especially public witness, in which he has been engaged for decades. For much of that time, his witness was a daily event. His influence is widespread, both in New London and at the Groton submarine base across the river. Usually, in our vigils in front of the house and elsewhere, he is greeted warmly and by name. I am now one of those who prepare his meals and meds. And each morning I cook oatmeal for four of us, including Cal. He and I have become close and feel a deep mutual respect grounded in our commitments and witness. In future articles, I’ll try to say more about other members of the community.

Not only do we have meals together; but we also have daily communal prayer, a commitment to daily personal prayer or meditation and weekly attendance at some area church, weekly Bible studies and business meetings, and biweekly Clarification of Thought discussions that are open to the wider community. During the daily prayer, we have Scripture readings as well as a reading on the life and witness of some saint or person who has given their life for love, truth, peace, and justice. During prayer, we have time for sharing reflections on any of the readings. That has frequently opened new insights for me. Included in our prayers are the stated needs of one or another member for whom we pray during the coming week. Bible study follows the African method in which the passage is read three times using different translations. After the first reading, we each share a word or phrase that stands out for us. After the second and third readings, we share what the passage is saying to each of us personally and what we think it is saying to us as a community. During the Clarification of Thought meetings, a presenter offers background information and insights into a particular issue, such as “water use,” followed by an open discussion of the issue. This has all been an enriching experience both in giving and receiving.  I started a small Quaker worship meeting Sunday afternoons at the house and sometimes I go to the Spanish mass, a joyous celebration attended by some two or three hundred people, I think. There is a large Latino community in New London, mainly Puerto Rican, I have heard. I often hear Spanish spoken on the streets.

While my involvement so far has largely been in nurturing friendships and participating in activities within the community, I am also discerning where I feel led to offer my services in the extended community and beyond, in addition to the peace witnessing. Possibilities include working with the high school students in the FRESH community garden near me, serving on a committee connected to the City Council working on sustainability issues in New London, helping out at the 50-bed homeless shelter, and talking with neighbors and the poor I meet on the streets and directing them to the help they need. At this point, I’m inclined towards the FRESH garden and the sustainability committee.

While intentional community is hard work, it is worth the effort, both for my sake and the sake of others.

[table of contents]