Monday, February 18, 2008


When I was young, I wanted to suffer for God. I pictured myself being the great and glorious martyr. There's something so romantic about laying down your life. I guess every young person might see themselves that way. But there is nothing glorious about the moment of suffering when you're in the middle of it. You swear it's meaningless. You swear it has nothing to do with goodness or holiness.

The very essence of the desert experience is that you want to get out. A lack of purpose, of meaning - that's what causes us to suffer. When you find a pattern in your suffering, a direction, you can accept it and go with it. The great suffering, the suffering of Jesus, is when that pattern is not given.

Richard Rohr from The Great Themes of Scripture (CD)

I know that for me this has so often been true. I don't know how many times I have said to myself, "I wouldn't mind if I knew this were for God, from God, if I even knew I were being persecuted for righteousness' sake... but this is meaningless!" And yet I know in retrospect that it has been at these very times that God has done the miracles he has done in my life: transformed, healed, watered the aridity of my heart and grown wonders there that are all his, and none of my own.

I am so grateful for this insight, and for the mercy of God that has allowed me access to it. Whether of course it will help the next time I am stuck in one of these experiences is another matter altogether. Perhaps if I did remember it, perhaps if I could rationalise my way out of the pain by recalling the other times God has brought good out of this stuff, then the transformation would no longer be possible. I don't know. And I suppose not knowing is part of it all too. If it were knowable then, like the Eucharist, like Sacraments in general, then it would no longer be a mystery.

Perhaps it is a sacrament, albeit not of a kind immediately recognised by tradition. Perhaps the desert is really part of the Eucharist, just as Jesus' temptations during those 40 days at the beginning of his ministry were part of the story of the Cross?

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(Hebrews 4.14-16)

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