Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where does the pain go?

Pain is sometimes a very lonely thing. We've all encountered the fresh pain that comes from clumsy comforters who say things like "It could be worse!"and "Look at the bright side!" as they hastily retreat from our presence. Then there are the "rescuers", just as damaging in their own way. They have such a hatred of pain that they compulsively try to "do something" to erase it.
Sometimes it's possible to fix things, just as sometimes we need to 'buck up' etc. But sometimes we are simply in terrible pain and no one can "fix" it. In periods like these when the problems are not yet soluble "seeing the bright side" is more anesthetic than curative and "fixing the problem" would require either a time machine or full-blown psychosis. So where can we put our pain to keep it from overwhelming us?

In Fr. Lev Gilet's book "In Thy Presence" he writes about God's entry into every intimate detail of our condition in the Incarnation, especially all our sufferings. He mentions the story of the three Hebrew children who survived the fiery furnace they were thrown into when they would not commit idolatry. There appears a fourth figure, a "Son of Man" who is with them in the furnace. He does not take them out of the furnace, nor does He turn off the heat. Until reading this I always thought of it as God keeping them from experiencing the heat by simple fiat. After all, we believe that "When God wills the order of nature is overruled." But what if God did not apply invisible asbestos to them? What if they experienced the suffering and He suffered with them and their intimacy with Him preserved them in the suffering?

What if the One Who "changed the fiery flames into dew" did so by taking on the suffering of His servants, entering into their pain rather than erasing it? Don't we see this in Lazarus' death where Christ sorrows with Lazarus' family? Jesus says to His disciples that part of the reason for Lazarus' death is that they might believe. John spends a good deal of time recording the grief of Lazarus' family and friends as well as Jesus' reaction to all this pain. He suffers with them and then resurrects Lazarus. What are the disciples learning to believe? Not only that Jesus has power to resurrect but that he is willing to taste of death, His own, but also that of His loved ones.

By the time Gethsemane arrives, He has already drunk deeply from the cup of human suffering. And in that place of dreadful glory what is revealed to us? His immediate knowledge of suffering alone. After entreating His followers to stay, to watch and to pray with Him, He is abandoned by all.

What if the answer to our suffering is His suffering with us? What if the answer to my question is "Straight into the Heart of our Maker?"...

Monday, March 31, 2008

April Snow

Snow falls thick, fast, and urgent
blanketing the world one last time

A boy on the beach finding just one more perfect stone
just one more bucket of sand on the castle

How blame the season for a child's exuberance?
especially when his Father has permitted....

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Twisted wreck of self-love

This last Sunday my priest spoke of how the Church has constructed Lent with a view to healing us of self-love. It is such an insidious and commonplace disorder. How many things do our passions present to us as needs? And why do we fall for it so easily? One answer is that the passions actually do need these things and without them they (the passions) will die. In a culture where we're taught to identify with the passions, rather than control the normal ones and destroy the evil ones, it's easy to see how we can develop the habit of resisting the discomforts of Lent.
An interesting side effect of dealing with one 'need' presented to us by the passions is that a new one usually pops up immediately. This reveals the wisdom of the Church in prescribing a common fast, rather than an a la carte approach to Lent. Our true illness is the habit of self-indulgence or self-love. Denying ourselves one thing only for the period of the fast may in fact lead us to simply overindulge in something else. The breadth and length of the prescribed fast are calculated to afford us the best possible chance to gain mastery over the passions. It is of course possible to pervert the fast into an exercise in pride or an excuse for enormities of self-indulgence later. Lent will not do its work if we are prayerless and unrepentant.

May the work of this Holy season pervade our hearts and minds with the Goodness of God which leads us all to repentance.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Questions of lent

O Merciful Lord
I know that with each breath I draw
I am your servant

Yet why do I seek to be the servant who enters Your labours at the 11th hour?
Why abuse the knowledge of your kindness?
Why eat again from the bitter tree?

What disordered appetites drive me to this frenzy of self-love-loathing?
I do not know, but I would begin to know how lost I am without you.
Find me out, my Lord and save me.