Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Giving us his own Name…

We in the western world are a circumference people, with little access to the centre.  We live on the boundaries of our own lives, confusing edges with essence, too quickly claiming the superficial as substance.  The superficial level of things is largely useless and leads us to do evil without knowing it.  To plumb the depths and substance of things, even our sin, is to be led to God.  Perhaps the greatest sin of our time is superficiality itself.

Maybe there was an earlier age when people had easy and natural access to their souls and openness to transcendent Spirit.  If there was such an age, it must have consisted of people who were either loved very well at their centre or who suffered very much around the edges—probably both. 

The path of prayer and love and the path of suffering seem to be the two Great Paths of transformation.  Suffering seems to get our attention; love and prayer seem to get our heart and our passion.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Everything Belongs, pp. 13-15
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
Have you ever noticed the odd spiritual law that seems to govern us, that the more we are afflicted, the more honestly and (com)passionately we can pray for others—and its parallel, that the better things seem to be going for us, the harder it is to pray?

Perhaps this is why we have been given, in our various degrees, the gift of empathy, “the capacity to share the sadness or happiness of another sentient being through consciousness rather than physicality.” (Wikipedia) But we have to be prepared to be open: we have to be prepared to see others as they are for themselves, and not as they might potentially serve our own needs.

The Principles of the Third Order of St. Francis state: “Members of The Third Order fight against all injustice in the name of Christ, in whom there can be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for in him all are one. Our chief object is to reflect that openness to all which was characteristic of Jesus. This can only be achieved in a spirit of chastity, which sees others as belonging to God and not as a means of self-fulfilment…” We are called, as Christians, to battle in prayer, as Ephesians 6 in particular explains—but we can only do so as long as we are pure in heart (Matthew 5:8) and keep ourselves from the lust (and here I mean economic, social, political lust as much as sexual) that views others as means to our own ends, and thus blinds us to the empathy that God has placed in the heart of each of us.

We are all sinners. But Christ died for each one of us, and so far as we love him, he will heal us. We have just to turn to him concealing nothing, and by his Holy Spirit he will restore us, giving us his own pure heart for our stone one, opening our blind eyes to see the brokenness of our sisters and brothers, opening our ears to hear their crying, and giving us his own Name in which to pray…


  1. We (I) often forget about those other lusts that you speak of. I use to find myself slipping back out to the fringe and hanging there for days at a time. Back then, I never saw it. Now, when I see or feel it happening, I run! Merry Christmas, and thanks for the post. k

  2. Mike, this line: >>Have you ever noticed the odd spiritual law that seems to govern us, that the more we are afflicted, the more honestly and (com)passionately we can pray for others—and its parallel, that the better things seem to be going for us, the harder it is to pray?<< is so much the truth that I discover in jail. I am so often humbled by the deep spiritual wisdom that men and women share with me. It's impossible not to notice that God has been working in them.

  3. Thank you, both, and a blessed New Year to you!

    Shannon, that is precisely what I was getting at. I too have noticed it as a visitor, whether to jail or hospital, or bringing Communion to the housebound. Some of these last, especially, are the unsung heroes of our spiritual life!

  4. <>

    You probably know what I am going to say: This is not a universal truth. Sometimes it's true, sure; but other times, other people, no way.

    I think that we WANT to believe that suffering is ennobling, but I think that it probably creates as much self-centeredness and depletion of compassion as it does the opposite.

    To some extent I'm speaking of myself; I find it much easier to pray with depth and compassion when life is good. Relatively speaking. When things have been at their lowest, I have found prayer impossible.

    But I am also speaking from observation - and what I have observed is that for many folks, affliction = no prayer, no interest in God or others, and quite often, the end of faith.

  5. Thank you, Robin, and Happy New Year!

    Interesting point. Obviously I can't (it would be insulting to try) argue with your own experience, and yet - from my own experience of suffering, it does have the effect on me that I've described.

    Ennobling? Not the word I used, or would have used. I don't think suffering has ennobled me. It might have made certain parts of me slightly less ignoble, but that's about the length of it.

    What suffering did do for me was to provide me with a paradigm for others' suffering, perhaps, and shatter my defences against my own empathy with them. Further, when I had gone beyond the point of self-help, and had been let down by those very ones on whom I should have been able to depend, it was God who drew close to me in my pain (Ps 199.65-72) with a sweetness I had never dreamed of.

    I would not dare to compare types of suffering; what my suffering (the largely emotional kind anyway - I'm not talking about the very different physical pain of the accident that stopped me farming) did have in common with Shannon's prisoners was that it was very prolonged (off and on for 20-odd years) only becoming acute in the last 4 or 5 of those. Is there something to learn here, I wonder? Or is it simply the different reactions of different kinds of people? I have been fascinated just recently to read some of Elaine Aron's work on sensitivity, and I have been wondering (without any firm conclusions so far!) what she might have to say to the life of prayer...

  6. I will be interested to look up Elauin Aron.

    My worst suffering has been consistently accompanied by a sense of God's profound absence, so yes, our experiences have been very different. Which is just how it goes.

  7. I well remember, Robin, your own astonishingly honest blogging on all of this. Thank you for that - far as it has been from my own experience, it was in some desperate way heartening to follow you and pray for you down that path. I don't know quite why that should have been so, unless it's simply that it is heartening to read of such reckless honesty in the face of the unthinkable. Thank you!