Aloha Friday Message – November 14, 2008 – Suffering

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Aloha pumehana on this Aloha Friday. Today I am thinking about SUFFERING. Thousands of books have been written on this topic, and I make no claim to have any stronger insights into the purpose and meaning of suffering. I can only tell you what is in my mind and heart today. I find even thinking about suffering to be a difficult experience. The combination of empathy and sympathy I feel is sometimes overwhelming. I cannot explain why any more than I can explain why suffering exists. Here are a few thoughts on what my heart tells me.

Recently I read a sermon by Episcopal Pastor Randal Gardner that expressed ideas about the meaning of suffering and those “spiritual dry patches” or the “Dark Night of The Soul.” If you’ve been though one of those experiences – and I think all of us can count on something like that at least onceSuffering can come anywhere, any time, right in the middle of what we are doing. in our lives – you know that it can be a really difficult time, a test that seems to exceed our ability to survive. Rev. Gardner told of two such persons. One endured incredible physical suffering and through it because spiritually stronger – strong enough to survive her physical torment. This was a Russian aristocrat named Iulia de Beausobre who lived toward the end of Stalin’s Reign of Terror. You can see the full text here:

http://stjameschurch.com/worship/text/9.9.07%20The%20Rev.%20Randal%20Gardner%20Pentecost%2015.pdf

This part of that piece really caught my attention: Rev. Gardner said, “Suffering, de Beausobre said, is the place where good and evil meet. This confrontation is the source of suffering in the world and it is the source of suffering in the individual soul. It is where our longing for good meets the distortion of that longing into selfishness and greed. It is where our own good intentions meet our own capacity for wickedness and evil.”

He also referred to Mother Teresa’s account in her book Come Be My Light of the long – 50-year long – dry stretch that was not particularly physical torment, but a protracted period of seeming emptiness. Emptiness until, she says, her spiritual director Rev. Michael van der Peet reminded her “that her journey was not only through the self sacrificing good works of Christ but also through the dark anguish of despair he felt as he cried out from the cross, ‘Why have you forsaken me?'”

I have found comfort in knowing that some of the most heroic Christians we know about have experienced this kind of epiphany that helps them understand that physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering all lead us to the same place: JOY. For some of us it takes “forever” and for others, the depth and breadth and length of their suffering is brief but poignant. We all know of friends or relatives – or MBN members – who have cancer, who are dealing with difficult family issues, or addictions, or serious financial reversals, or other trials and burdens. Our hearts go out to them and we share in their suffering. If we are disposed and prepared to do so, we also help to alleviate their suffering using whatever gifts God gives us.

For me, in those times when God seemed farthest and I seemed most desperate, the only thing that made any sense was to keep doing what I knew to be “the right things:” To pray, to read the Bible, to serve, to give, and to expect healing. I also realized I had to be open to the help, the empowerment, and the encouragement given by others who might not have fully understood my despair, but who nonetheless held out helping hands and hearts. They were Christ for me when I could not be Christ for anyone. When JOY returned, it was different in texture, content, and context. I realized it was a rough trip, but well worth it. I also realize now that there are probably some other stretches of “25 miles of bad road” ahead. I’m OK with that. I would not have found JOY as readily, I believe, had I not persisted in the common things and accepted the many and varied gifts of family and friends, I would still be kicking at the darkness and wrestling with the drought caused by doubt.

As I look around me, I see so many loved ones in difficult trials. To me, some of them seem like the inevitable consequences of one bad decision after another, but to Christ those trials are all about Him with them walking to Calvary side-by-side. In other places I see crushing grief, disease and famine, war and senseless suffering so immense it suffocates the people upon whom it falls and sickens those who watch helplessly as evil overtakes innocence. And with them as one we cry out with Christ, “Why have your forsaken me?” From the darkness of The World we hear the response, “All is lost! You will be punished for this.” But we are not the Children of Darkness. We are the Children of Light – Eternal Light, “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.” Our trials and victories, our terrors and triumphs, our sorrows and JOY are not ours only. They belong to everyone with whom we can share, and that includes Christ who continues to quietly remind us at every moment, “Fear not. I am with you always until the end of the age.”

He is for you always and all ways for all time.

Thank you for sharing your Light with me, Beloved, and for helping drench the dryness I have known with the showers of love and friendship, generosity and hope you provide. Please, I implore for the love of God in Christ Jesus, continue to do that for one another.

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, and God willing – forever — at your service.

chick

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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