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Difference Maker

People Making a Difference: Lyndon Harris

During 9/11, this New York clergyman experienced true heroism. But he still had to find his own path to forgiveness.

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Out of the ashes of his despair, forgiveness began to bloom. He spent two years as a consultant to The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (Episcopal) in New York City. As his health returned, he traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, to visit Alexandra Asseily. She had begun a movement to plant a Garden of Forgiveness in her beloved Lebanon after its civil war, which claimed more than 300,000 lives. The greatest gift to one's children, Ms. Asseily teaches, is to become a better ancestor. And that, she says, is done through forgiveness.

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When he returned from Beirut, Harris joined with Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project to found their own nonprofit group: The Gardens of Forgiveness project. They want to fulfill Asseily's vision by planting gardens around the world. What better way to express life-affirming qualities of forgiveness than by cultivating living beauty in the earth?

Harris and Dr. Luskin also developed a forgiveness curriculum for middle-school students. Two New York City schools began teaching it four years ago, and more schools will soon come on board. The Gardens of Forgiveness project has planted gardens throughout New York State and in Chicago. The project also has partners in Durban and Soweto, South Africa; Uganda; and Liberia that are exploring planting Gardens of Forgiveness. Harris also dreams of a garden at ground zero in New York City one day, and one at Gettysburg, Pa., to help heal wounds that linger from the Civil War.

St. John's Lutheran Church in New York's West Village has asked him to become its full-time pastor. "They loved me back to church," Harris says. As part of an agreement between New York's Episcopal and Lutheran bishops, clergy between the two denominations may now serve in each other's parishes.

Most recently, Harris traveled to Rwanda, where he hopes to plant an extensive Garden of Forgiveness in memory of the almost 1 million Tutsis who died in the 1994 genocide there. As Harris's fellow activist, Rwandan musician Jean Paul Samputu, says: "Forgiveness is the most powerful unpopular weapon against violence that exists."

Adds landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy, who went with Harris to Rwanda: "Having learned about forgiveness himself, Lyndon goes into the world to make that emotional experience palpable to others. He sees that by creating a garden you can stroll through and experience with all your senses, you can make a path that leads toward forgiveness, toward transformation and a state of grace." r

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