Sunday, December 15, 2019

"A fathomless ocean of pain..."

The low, repetitive bawling was a distant throb of distress that Lilah had never grown used to, even though  it happened every time a cow gave birth. Sometimes, at night, it was unbearable, the bereft mother calling and calling for her baby, the embodiment of despair. Sometimes it seemed to Lilah that in her short life she had been party to a fathomless ocean of pain and misery, that all this suffering was there inside her, barely supressed by her flippant ways and habitual optimism. And sometimes she couldn't stop herself imagining every hurt and cruelty; every experimental laboratory; every horse used in war; every animal ill-used in the service of man; every creature sent terrified to the abattoir. All of it added up to an entire universe of horrifying anguish, and she had to breathe slow and deep to be able to carry on.
This passage (the wider context of the narrative makes it clear that the character's experience is not confined merely to questions of animal husbandry, but relates equally to her grief at the murder of her father, and to the inhumanity of humankind generally) from the murder mystery A Dirty Death, by Rebecca Tope, reminds me of the assertion, explained so well in Helen Waddell's own novel Peter Abelard, that the cross of Jesus goes on and on throughout all history, like a ring in the trunk of a tree; and that Calvary is but the visible bit, the saw-cut through the tree that reveals the ring. The cross, with all of its pain and desolation, continues through all time, the sacrifice by which Christ's mercy is present always as redemption and grace.

Whatever technical interpretation we place on the theology of crucifixion and the atonement, the direct spiritual experience of "an entire universe of horrifying anguish" is, to me at least, the most fundamental call to prayer, and the reason why for me only a contemplative discipline comes anywhere near answering that call. Not for the first time I am reminded of this passage from Praying the Jesus Prayer by Br Ramon SSF:
We have seen that the Jesus Prayer involves body, mind and spirit... The cosmic nature of the Prayer means that the believer lives as a human being in solidarity with all other human beings, and with the animal creation, together with the whole created order (the cosmos). All this is drawn into and affected by the Prayer. One person's prayers send out vibrations and reverberations that increase the power of the divine Love in the cosmos.

The Christian is well aware of the fact that the world is also evil. There is a falseness and alienation which has distracted and infected the world, and men and women of prayer, by the power of the Name of Jesus, stand against the cosmic darkness, and enter into conflict with dark powers... The power of the Jesus Prayer is the armour against the wiles of the devil, taking heed of the apostle's word, 'Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayers and supplications...' [Ephesians 6.18]

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