Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The point of suffering?

Suffering is the necessary feeling of evil. If we don't feel evil we stand antiseptically apart from it, numb. We can't understand evil by thinking about it. The sin of much of our world is that we stand apart from pain; we buy our way out of the pain of being human.

Jesus did not numb himself or withhold from pain. Suffering is the necessary pain so that we know evil, so that we can name evil and confront it. Otherwise we somehow dance through this world and never really feel what is happening.

Brothers and sisters, the irony is not that God should feel so fiercely; it's that his creatures feel so feebly. If there is nothing in your life to cry about, if there is nothing in your life to complain about, if there is nothing in your life to yell about, you must be out of touch. We must all feel and know the pain of humanity. The free space that God leads us into is to feel the full spectrum, from great exaltation and joy, to the pain of mourning and dying and suffering. It's called the Paschal Mystery.

The totally free person is one who can feel all of it and not be afraid of any of it.

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 209

This passage brings me to the very heart of what I understand by prayer. The pain we feel in suffering, and still more in compassion (suffering-with), is the pain of the Cross. There is for me no escaping this. It's what Paul is speaking of when he says:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly... In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8.22-23; 26-27)

Creation, the whole web of life and death, birth and agony, is caught up in what I have to call the mystery of the Fall: "For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." (Romans 8.20-21)

Because I don't understand; because as a human being I simply cannot get my heart around the enormity of the world's pain, nor my head around the intricate and endless pattern of causation the gives rise to it; because as a mortal being I cannot comprehend - though I can worship - the economy of salvation, the way the Cross opens the way for "a new Heaven and a new earth" when "[God] will wipe every tear from [his creation's] eyes [when t]here will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away..." (Revelation 21.1, 4), I cannot pray straightforward prayers of intercession, as I can for some individual situation of sickness or need. This is why God seems to have called me particularly to pray the Jesus Prayer, so that in my identity with, my compassion for, the pain of the world, I can pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner", since somehow "me" now includes all that I suffer with, and my sin somehow now includes, or is one with (and this hurts) the sin that causes that universal suffering.

The Jesus Prayer is for me the perfect prayer, since in its cry for mercy it is both petition and intercession, but intercession that transcends my own feebleness and limitation; yet in its repetition, it brings the little mind to silence, and allows the vast stillness of the love of God to come and gentle my crushed and crying heart, and in some way I don't understand, allows a little more of the mercy of Christ into this broken place we live in together.

1 comment:

Dr. Laura Marie Grimes said...

"...it brings the little mind to silence, and allows the vast stillness of the love of God to come and gentle my crushed and crying heart..."

These words are immensely powerful. Thank you.