thinking theology

In Suffering, Wholeness

i am whole and alone
i am partial and in pain
we are, in joy and in pain
we are whole and being completed

The issue of suffering is perhaps one of the most difficult for Christianity. We say that creation is good and God is good, but so much suffering seems to be an ineluctable part of existence. We feel hard pressed to justify the presence of what appears to be evil in our world. Moreover, we are not clear about what actually constitutes suffering; we tend to describe everything from discomfort to agony as suffering. Indeed, what causes one to person to suffer grievously, may be an incidental discomfort or inconvenience to another. I want to suggest that as we come to acceptanc eof suffering s an element of the gift of awareness, we are able to transcend existential suffering as see it as material for our understanding, as part pf pur [assage and development as a species.. I will be clarifying however, the difference between existential suffering and the siffering that is the result of social evil.,

Socially, we have developed an equally distorted sense of perspective. One society is furious that there are no grocery stores in a particular part of town while another society wonders how many of their people will survive a famine. Our news delivery systems blur the distinction between misfortune and tragedy in their competition for our attention. Many of us have erred in this regard by underestimating how pain is received by another, either by overweighting or by inadvertently discounting the suffering.

All that we can say then is that suffering is how pain is understood and experienced. In the stories of the great Christian martyrs, we hear that the Romans were impressed by how bravely they died and with seemingly less distress than one would have expected. As a child, I heard these stories of martyrdom with a somewhat unsavoury fascination, much as the church has treated them in fact. We tend to dismiss the pain for the value we place on their courage and faith. Pain as the experience of others is minimized, while our own pain is perceived as definitive and unconditional.

In The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry says, “…for the person in pain, so incontestably and unnegotiably present is it that “having pain” may come to be thought of as the most vibrant example of what it is to “have certainty”, while for the other person it is so elusive that “hearing about pain” may exist as the primary model of what it is “to have doubt”. Thus pain comes unsharably into our midst as that which cannot be denied and that which cannot be confirmed.” (p.4) In order to consider the relation of subjective pain to faith in a cosmos, founded and driven by goodness, I am going to employ the word “suffering” as a religious paradigm of pain.

As in “In Wisdom, Change”, the idea of development, of learning, inevitably leads to suffering. But what constitutes this suffering? Sometimes we say we are suffering when we have pain, but is it the pain or the consequences of the pain? Does suffering come from being hurt or being alone with the hurt? We know that touch has tremendous power to ease pain so is suffering the experience of alienation, of being left alone with whatever pain it is we are experiencing? Is suffering a sense of what it means to be totally alone in the universe, a sense of disconnection with all that is good? When people are deep in mourning, they speak about the greyness of grief, an absence of colour or music in their lives. Elaine Scarry notes that, “the unmaking of civilization inevitably requires a return to and mutilation of the domestic, the ground of all making.” (p.45) Suffering “uncreates” that which we believe to be the true nature of the universe: creativity, goodness, continuity, home.

Our suffering, then has something to do with disconnection. We know that the most devastating suffering has to do with torture and humiliation. Pain alone, while unpleasant, only constitutes “suffering” when it has a dimension of alienation. Any of us who spend any amount of time in hospitals will quickly note that those people who have a sense of support, love and sharing with others, seem to be able to deal with their pain in more creative, less alienating and alienated ways. They will say that they are having pain, perhaps, but they will rarely describe it as suffering. Those who have a sense of disconnection with others, whether or not that is observably true, will describe themselves as suffering. Those with conditions that make the certainty of communication impossible seem to be much more difficult to comfort, more difficult to reach. They seem to “suffer” more to us although their physical pain may be no greater. The development of support groups in the last few decades says something about the need for people who are suffering to find connection, to be understood, to be heard in their lament.

The story of the garden of Gethsemane is an important description of how compassion, integrity, goodness can lead to suffering. Jesus prayed to God for release from either his fear or the inevitability of his death, but God was silent . Even his companions abandoned him to sleep while he is anguished and terrified. In Luke’s account, an angel comes to strengthen him, but even that only makes him “pray more earnestly”. In the face of great suffering, there is only silence, the dark valley where the soul confronts itself in isolation.

“He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (Luke 22:39-46)

In this snapshot, we see that the writers of these accounts wanted others to know that the Christ “suffered”; that is, not only was Jesus beaten and killed, but also experienced abandonment and stark fear. This feeling of abandonment rings throughout all stories of suffering. Anyone who has visited people in war-torn countries or in refugee camps has heard the haunting refrain when the victims are asked what they need. They say, “Don’t forget us; don’t abandon us in your hearts; even if you can do nothing concrete for us, do not forget us.” Some of the grief of the chronically ill and the very elderly is that they fear that they have been forgotten. In the psalms, we read about God remembering Israel “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel” (Psalm 98:3) or about God seemingly to forget the people, “Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? “(Psalm 44:24)

Suffering itself has cultural and social parameters that define it from group to group. In some groups, a great deal of visible and audible grieving takes place at the time of a loved one’s death, but then people seem to return to their lives with minimal fuss. In other cultures, it is inappropriate to express grief at all with expressions of any sort other than the most restrained. This restraint is perceived to be true grief in that it is isolated and isolating. It also may be said that there is an expectation of degrees of grief for different kinds of losses. When one varies from the sociocultural norms of one’s peer group, most people perceive themselves and are perceived to be “abnormal” or inappropriate, or lacking in true feeling or culpable in some way. Indeed, a lack of grief is viewed as suspicious so that people who are delighted to be rid of an unlovable partner, parent, or sibling are perceived as somehow “wrong’. Yet, those who seem inconsolable are seen to be weak and not getting on with their lives. We are made uneasy by contact with the aching loneliness of true suffering and we want to avoid it or punish it if we cannot avoid it.

I would suggest that all suffering, whether physical, social or emotional, or their combinations, arises from a sense of being alone with the struggle. Like depression, suffering tends to be self-reinforcing. Once the cycle of suffering has begun, it is difficult to break. We become habituated to suffering and its causes, like poverty and war. Because we are inured to these conditions, we are virtually paralyzed to act, to save ourselves. When we must face our own suffering, we are often irritated by anyone who attempts to break down our isolation; we want to insist that no one has ever suffered like this before and no one can possibly understand. In social terms, we reject efforts to ameliorate situations of pain, resigning ourselves to these evils as essential conditions of life. There is no reason whatsoever why the world could not choose tomorrow to abjure war and to struggle to eliminate the worst ravages of poverty. The ghetto of our habituation has locked us into a cycle of suffering that we know will ultimately touch every nation sooner or later and destroy each meadow and city.

We also know that to allow anyone to enter the circle of our pain will immediately begin to heal the pain. Comfort can only be extended to the willing heart. And as Ecclesiastes says, there is a season for everything under the sun, including healing. But to violate the arena of suffering by entering without invitation is as unhelpful as avoiding it. That does not excuse us or allow us to avoid the site of suffering, however; it just demands respect and patience. Socially, we know that the only thing standing between us and a peaceful world where children grow up without fear or hunger is the common will to change, wisdom in other words. But this will require energy and vision; this will call us to awaken, to give up our deathly sleepiness in the face of suffering. This will force us to exchange our dependence on an intervening God for an empowering God who has given us the world.

So here are the aspects of suffering as I am exploring it. There is some kind of loss: physical integrity, personal control, identity, relationship. There is some kind of pain: social, emotional or physical. There is some form of isolation and alienation: imprisonment, depression, disability. Each aspect leads to suffering only when it is recognized and acknowledged as such. One of the surprising things to witness is the pain of someone else which they do not accept as suffering but as an unwelcome reality of the human condition. For example, let me tell you about two visually impaired people; one of these people finds her blindness a challenge but would not describe her life as suffering. The other projects the pain of her visual loss onto everything around her, blaming the world, other people, even institutions, for any minor setback. She tells others that they have no idea how she suffers, which is of course true.

And another example…we all know that to love another will inevitably lead to hurt and loss, regardless of the vitality of that relationship. One way or another, we all will be hurt by those we love, or we will visit hurt upon them, deliberately or inadvertently. Some of us accept this inevitable loss as the price we pay for the benefit of love, even if it seems cruel and unnecessary. Others of us will have a sense of betrayal that this cosmic reality is one in which we must participate whether we will it or not. People will say with shock that it is unfair that their loved one has died or has ceased to love them, but where love is concerned, this inevitablility also exists. On the other hand, to attempt to shield oneself by refusing love is to refuse the quality that makes life most pleasurable and satisfying. But whether or not we suffer is moot. We may hurt and we may cry out in pain but we will see ourselves as suffering only to the degree to which we are alone with our pain.

Another side of this feeling of loss is rejection, which tends to be experienced as intentional abandonment. This begins early in life for us. We are born alone, even twins who have shared a womb; at our birth, we are separated immediately from the one unknown being with whom we have shared existence. This awareness of isolation is the first out-of-the-womb experience we will know. It is so wrenching that most of the rest of our lives are spent attempting to avoid ever experiencing it again. Before we can understand, every denial, every dismissal to bed may be seen as rejection, perhaps as a memory of our birth. Later on, in adolescence usually, most of us experience the hurt of the end of first love, something diminished in its significance by calling it “puppy love”. This helps us to minimize it with hindsight, but I would suggest that it is perhaps one of the deepest relationship pains we will ever feel because, for many of us, it is the first loss that we will verbalize, the first time we will come to understand what the cost of love is. And because it is minimized, we do feel isolated. This pain is one of the most traumatic to our social selves. We learn not only the pain of rejection but that others will not respect our feelings and that we ourselves should perhaps not take them so seriously. This is particularly devastating for people who wait until later in life to form an intimate relationship. The sense of rejection then is often final in terms of their willingness to risk again.

Falling in love is learning how to give up that to which we most vigourously cling. As a spiritual discipline, it means accepting change and the death of old ideas, old experiences. Jesus tells Mary in the garden not to cling to him and is experienced after his death in new ways and through new people. The love and devotion had not died but it had to be transformed and understood in different ways. This is resurrection: that all that we have experienced so vibrantly can be experienced again, but differently. Paul writes about the kind of bodies that demonstrate how the resurrected body will differ, but all of this is metaphor for this deeper truth: to love is to release both our future expectations and our past experience to the refining power of loss so that we might have renewed life.

I suspect we minimize the sting of love because we want to pack it away rather than learn from its power and intensity. We resist learning that hurt is normal, not an unhappy accident in the otherwise serene progress of the universe, but a constant reality of creation. And to be hurt means that we will also suffer loss, isolation and fear. Risking in love, learning from rejection, discovering our own strength in the face of suffering are part of the training for life. This training is of critical importance for those of us who say we follow the way of the cross, but remain vulnerable to being irredeemably wounded by suffering.

If suffering is in fact so normal that it conditions us from our first breath, and if avoiding it is clearly impossible, how are we to deal with it? In the second creation story, this problem of isolation is addressed. God looks at the human creature who has been made and says. “It is not good that the adamah should be alone; I will make a helper to be a partner.” (Genesis 2:19) And then the partner leads the creature to bite on the fruit of consciousness and relationship is born. This is a corollary: no self-awareness, no relationship. To develop relationship, we must first have a sense of self. Indeed, the creature only has a rudimentary sense of God after the fruit. To grow up is to become self-aware; to become self-aware begins the learning about separation; to learn about separation is to learn about suffering.

Why does suffering exist? Because the route to development lies through the path of self- awareness to affiliation to disentanglement to interrelationship. We must become aware of our separate selves, then we must learn to attach ourselves to another. Then again, we must learn autonomy of thought and action. The final stage is to learn how to coexist in an interdependent and mutually beneficial mode. It is difficult to believe that if a butterfly that lives for only a day has an important place in the universe, then we who are only relatively less ephemeral, have a place also. Yet everything we do hastens or hinders the growth of love in the universe. Every action we take, every word we speak, every hidden thought contributes either to the well-being and healing of the cosmos, or it erodes the fabric of creation. Where we place our suffering, and in what service, is of cosmic importance.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is within. That means that what is “out there” is inside too, but we can touch most keenly that which is inside our individual lives and in our lives as associations with people. But the kingdom of God that is within is in process, unfinished, open-ended. We need not cling to the past because the Spirit is encouraging us to a wider picture in this moment. Jesus lives out this teaching by first loving and calling a familial association around himself and then by leaving it to develop its own life and form. Jesus as an historical figure and Jesus as an object of faith are still being revealed as we learn from him in each era of the church’s life. As we change, our picture of Jesus is changed also. As we develop broader understandings and sensibilities, we are less afraid of differences and endings and more curious about next steps in faith.

And why do we want to develop either as a species or as individuals anyway? What’s wrong with the lives and the boundaries we have? Nothing of course is wrong with where we are, as long as we are affluent, and living in a peaceful land, but Christianity encourages us to think about growth and development. The language we use is of growing into Christ, of becoming a transformed body like the body of Christ, of being one with the Creator the way Christ is one, of becoming complete and fulfilled as the Creator is complete and fulfilled. One of the possibly unique features of Christianity is its impulse for growth and change, for acknowledging that everything is in the process of transformation.

The pathway of human development as individuals, as cultures and as a species requires love and suffering because it is through the experience of alienation that we come to value association not only for ourselves but for each person and each society. Love and suffering must always accompany each other because each conditions the other. To remember that no beloved can be held forever is to acknowledge the fragility and precious nature of the beloved. This is anticipated suffering. To be hurt through love is to experience the power of suffering to isolate and also to bring us through to a new understanding, a new way not only of understanding ourselves, but of understanding the beloved whose relationship with us has been altered. Suffering is the way we learn to share life, the way we learn both to differentiate ourselves from others and to reattach ourselves to others through compassion and love.

Suffering is not so much a condition as an attitude or a belief about a particular kind of experience. For example, some widows may suffer because they no longer have a place in the community, others may feel as if they live only a partial existence without their partners, and others may be liberated from the social constraints of marriage. It is the set of attitudes and beliefs that affect the definition of suffering. One elderly woman I visit suffers because she feels abandoned by her husband and her circle of friends, all of whom have died, and she lacks the need or the urge to form new relationships. Another woman in almost the identical circumstance says that she is not suffering, despite terrible physical problems, because her life is so busy with writing to her family and friends and staying abreast of the world’s events so that she can pray about them. This is not a value judgement of these people but an example of the different ways we understand ourselves in the context of our relationships. Thus, not surprisingly, religious people who have developed a method of prayer and reflection rarely find themselves with an ongoing sense of abandonment or psychic suffering.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer found that his memorization of the psalms helped during his imprisonment. His love for his compatriots, for both his sinful nation and for the Jewish people who were the victims, spun him back into the hands of his oppressors who would ultimately kill him as a traitor. His suffering was not a function of a sense of abandonment, but how he felt in safety while others suffered and were killed. He could not permit them to be alone in that and so renounced his personal safety for his solidarity with integrity and for love. “ Every act of self-control of the Christian is also a service to the fellowship. On the other hand, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not inflict injury upon the whole fellowship. An element of sickness gets into the body; perhaps nobody knows where it comes from or in what member it has lodged, but the body is infected. This is the proper metaphor for the Christian community. We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either in its health or to its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality.” (p.100 Life Together)

When we believe that our own seemingly modest actions have significance and power in the world, we are empowered to undertake what appears to be suffering for the love of others. This kind of sacrificial love has nothing to do with masochism. It always has to do with an unswerving sense of love. When one reads about the great martyrs one comes to understand how they hope for their lives up to the end. Equally they hope to inspire or lead others at the best, and at the least they choose one pain (love) for a less satisfactory pain (alienation, non-participation). They are witnesses to an outcome that they themselves will experience only through the eyes of hope and not in their mortal lives. The pictures of the victims of war are important not for the sensationalism that attends them but for the living reminder that this could be each one of us; that no one is guaranteed exemption from this price in the world in which we live. Just recently, there was headline news about a woman who had been killed by her estranged husband despite restraining orders and reprimands. Her death was a witness to the low value we place on women’s lives, particularly married women. For some people these stories are a reminder, a wake-up call, but for those who will not face suffering, who turn to the false safety of their own lives, these witnesses are as offensive as witnesses to suffering have always been.

Suffering is the centre of the cross. It is the nexus of love and alienation, of life and death, of anomie and meaning, of abandonment and fulfillment. The centre of the cross is the point where the contradictions meet; it is the chairotic moment of insight in which the paradoxes that haunt us make sense, have meaning. At the centre of the cross, we are each and all of us the persecutor and the victim, the witness and the perpetrator, the child and the old person. At the centre of the cross, we are complete and yet we are becoming. At the centre of the cross, we observe a man who becomes  a god for us, who transcends both his life and his death to call us to a deeper understanding of the hope with which we are to live, the vision we are to hold before our eyes.

Jesus says that those who want to save their lives have to learn how to give them up. At this moment when the contradictions are resolved, we see that we have never had our lives, but by spending them, using them, we give meaning and a place for ourselves in the history of the world. We may be servants in the house of the Holy One, but without our small sacrifice, without our small lives and offerings, the whole world would be poorer, our development would be more arduous and our release would be more prolonged.  In this moment, we understand our personal deaths not as wrongs but as completions, fulfillments of the tasks we have undertaken to ease the suffering of others by our love and our vision of hope.

In speaking of death, Thomas Merton notes, “ Hence, life ‘dies’ to itself in order to give itself away, and thus affirms itself more maturely, more fruitfully, and more completely. We live in order to die to ourselves and give everything to others. Such dying is the fruit of life, the evidence of mature and productive living. It is, in fact, the end or goal of life.” (p.102 Love & Living) Merton is not suggesting a life focused on death, but on others and the spaces in their lives where suffering exists. When we are totally immersed in love of life and of living creatures, our own deaths are almost incidental beside the wonder that we feel and the compassion that moves us to action and to prayer.

To step into the place where others suffer, to open ourselves to the pain of loss and abandonment, is to accept that we all participate in the painful delivery of the created order. Each one of us a womb, each one of us the product of a womb. Each life sown in tears and in joyful release.The apocalyptic imagery that presages a new order, however one may choose to think about what that order means, suggests the pain of labour: “ When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (Mark 13:7-8) One would be hard pressed to find a time when this description did not accurately describe reality somewhere in the world. We might want to speculate that the unfolding of life on this planet, and human civilization in particular, requires a continual birthing of consciousness and we see that reflected in the created order as well as in our societies.

This prolonged apocalypse is mirrored in the ongoing insertion of Christ into the world not so much as an event as a process, a second coming into the world. Simultaneously the world is being bent in suffering and the world is being healed and renewed. Elaine Scarry speaks of this as God being both omnipotent and vulnerable, sentient and wounded, God as both the subject and the object of human suffering. “It is not that the concept of power is eliminated; it is certainly not that the idea of suffering is eliminated; it is that the earlier relation between them is eliminated. They are no longer manifestations of each other; one person’s pain is not the sign of another person’s power. The greatness of human vulnerability is not the greatness of divine invulnerability. They are unrelated and therefore can occur together: God is both omnipotent and in pain.” (Scarry, p. 214)  On the cross, Jesus connects the holiness and power of God to the suffering of the world. To “take up our cross” as the church is stand at that centre where the only power that matters is the power of loving relation.

God is both beyond the human condition and enmeshed, not just in the human condition but incarnate in the whole created order, “groaning in labour”. And so we say that the Spirit groans with us, labours with us to deliver us. The cosmos is both the divine child and the body of the Great Mother who wills life and growth for all her children. Jesus, then, is not the incarnation but the revelation of the whole incarnation, of Spirit becoming known and revealed in matter. Jesus the person conveys the Spirit with power and new wisdom to create a new order, a new consciousness. We are invited to be born of Spirit, to experience the fire and breath of holiness flashing through our lives. It is Jesus who has taught us not to fear the power of the flame and the whirlwind but to be caught up in it, to become like him in daring and in passion.

This aspect of the incarnation, the extended passion of Christ which can be seen throughout most of the Christian writings, canonical and otherwise, is expressed in every event of his life, from his feasting at table to his sorrow over Lazarus. To be incarnate means, in a Christian context, to participate in the suffering of the world through the circumstances of one’s own life. This pushes our ideas about suffering into the realm of paradox. If everyone suffers, then suffering is both an isolating experience and the single common experience of every human brought into the world. To suffer means to feel loss and abandonment, yet in that loss and abandonment, we are most in solidarity with all that has been, that is, and that is yet to come. Indeed, in each experience of suffering, each person participates in the suffering of Christ and thereby has both the potential and the hope of resurrection, of understanding embodiment in broader and more enriching ways, and to see ourselves not just as cosmic dust, but as cosmic dust with a purpose.

For suffering to move from a regrettable error in the Divine plan, or the ongoing punishment for growing up, to a difficult but essential part of human development, we need to separate the suffering that is “natural” and the suffering that we impose in our lust for divine power. Since God is ultimately the source of life and death, the alpha and omega, we tend to feel powerful only when we have the potential to cause harm or to give life. Not surprisingly, the people who most capture our imaginations are often healers and serial killers. This is a shallow grasp of suffering, a failure to recognise ourselves not at the beginning or the ending but in the middle of the action of the cosmos. We are not powerful enough to truly create anything from nothing; nor can we utterly destroy matter, although we can bend it and reshape it. We are neither the beginning nor the ending of the story; we are caught in the midst of the story and invited to write the parts for ourselves in this cosmic drama.

In one sense, the garden gate is closed. We cannot return to a state of ignorance and unknowing without destroying ourselves as a species. One might see some of our more horrific technologies as a wish fulfillment of a return to the womb through our own annihilation. As we contaminate our water, air and land, we are gradually remaking the world in such a way that it will be unliveable. In this way, we will recreate the garden. But this time it will not be a nursery, but a tomb. What was intially the ignorance of being pre-conscious will become the ignorance of of non-being.

Every day I call on you, O God;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness? (Psalm 88:9-12)

To grow up means to accept the burden of consciousness and that inevitably will mean awareness of loss and abandonment, suffering. However, there are still choices for us to make. We can decide where we would place our energies: in the creation of suffering or in its healing; in learning through suffering or in denial; in solidarity and a sense of community of suffering or in isolation and self-absorption. Suffering is both opportunity and curse for us. We can hold it as a weapon or as a doorway to new life. We can be monsters or angels, and sometimes both at the same time. The world has been given to humans to “have dominion” in and we have choices about how we will walk through this garden of the world. Whether we destroy our garden, break our toys and kill our friends depends on how we come to understand suffering. Suffering that is neither sought nor administered but endured, experienced and used for the growth of wisdom, can be our rite of passage to a new way of being human, a way that looks like Jesus, an incarnation of God’s compassion and woundedness. As long as we confuse the suffering that gives us birth with the suffering we visit upon each other in order to feel like gods, then we will make our lives and the life of the planet a misery.

If the whole of creation is suffering birth pangs, then the whole creation is dying and being remade second by second as one star goes supernova and another galaxy is born. We do not need to fear this and when we understand that we are participants, not gods or victims of the universe, then we can greet both the pain and the healing as cosmic moments and see ourselves and any other sentient life as partners in the unfolding, in the development, in the mystery, in the revelation. Science then becomes not the laboratory of dangerous experiment, but a place of holiness and discovery of the Divine, just as Roger Bacon so once believed. Science is the revelation of Divine mystery. And we are not mad dabblers, but reverent, wisdom-seeking, compassionate explorers of existence.

Our suffering both connects us to each other and to the whole unfolding of creation, and distinguishes us one from another. Like a blizzard, we are each a snowflake, but from the scope of history a blur of precipitation. A children’s hymn that I found highly debatable as a child had the sentiment that God’s sees the little sparrow fall and has even more concern for humans. As I speculated on how many dead birds I had witnessed, I found this of dubious comfort. Perhaps the focus is skewed, however. Perhaps we want to say that God in creating us, also witnesses to our existence. As each creature comes into existence, it is both recognized as part of the fabric of the Divine and a separate being. If we say that the Divine transcends time and we are carved in the palm of that existence (Isaiah 49:14–16), then our existence is tied and bound to the Holy One.

But Zion said, “The Holy One has forsaken me,
my God has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.

Once we live, we live forever as part of God. For humans that means that our consciousness partly requires our recording of all that exists in suffering and in thanksgiving. Becoming is painful; birth is painful. Beyond the labour is joy; beyond our human emotions is only Life in all its fullness.

Merton said, “Faith gives us life in Christ…. To accept this is impossible unless one has profound hope in the incomprehensible fruitfulness that emerges from this dissolution of our ego in the ground of being and of Love. Such a hope is not the product of human reason, it is a secret gift of grace…. We accept our emptying because we realize that our very emptiness is fulfillment and plenitude. In our emptiness the one Word is clearly spoken. It says, ‘I will never let  go of you or desert you’ (Hebrews13:5), for I am your God and I am Love.” (Love & Living, p. 22)

In suffering, wholeness.

Beloved of God, you shared human life with us.
You knew laughter and tears, courage and fear.
Still our trembling souls that we may see you before us,
a light to guide our feet and a comfort on our journey.
Show us how to be companions to others
that we may be bound ever closer to you and to your Way.
Holy Jesus, child of God and of Mary,
be our friend and brother that we may walk through storms
and sunshine with your name on our lips
and your message in our actions. 

Amen.

 

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