24 August 2011

why is there suffering?

What are some answers to the title question?  Is it because we screw things up?  Because we’re bad?  Is it because we do not break free from the chains of desire?  Is it ultimately unknowable?  In my reading this morning, I came upon some interesting thoughts in Richard Rohr’s On the Threshold of Transformation. (279)

“Suffering is our necessary perception of evil.  If we don’t feel evil, we stand apart from it, numb and aloof, and do not see our own complicity in it.  Jesus did not numb himself or stand above pain; in fact the cross reveals his utter solidarity with all the suffering of history.  It was God’s way of joining us at our lowest moments.  I’m not sure how or why, but our suffering unites us to God and to other people—and therefore to ourselves.

“The irony is not that God should feel so fiercely but that God’s creatures should feel so feebly.  If you find nothing to cry about or no injustice that deserves your anger, then you are blind and out of touch.  We need to make personal the immense pain of humanity, of animals, of the earth itself, which is all the very pain of God.  He holds it first, we hold it second.  If we agree to hold it with him, I think we can actually participate in the salvation of the world (See Colossians 1:24-25).”

The opposite of suffering isn’t pleasure—it’s numbness.  In a spiritual sense, it’s sloth, acedia.  No one welcomes suffering, but one must be awake to experience it.

(The image is from yasminsinai.com.)

01 August 2011

Lydian baptism

In the photo, I’m holding the shirt I was wearing at my baptism.  Wednesday, the third of August, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of that day.  (The green paint spots are something I picked up a few years later while painting machinery at a factory in Nashville!)

Wednesday the third is notable for another baptism, as well.  It’s the feast of St. Lydia, whose story is told in Acts 16.  I mentioned her in a previous post.

In her essay, “Opening the Heart to Listen:  Becoming Mystics and Prophets Today,” Judette Gallares uses Lydia’s conversion story in describing how we are called to be both mystics (with direct, loving experience of God) and prophets (addressing our world with the word from God).  Lydia does this exceptionally well with her practice of hospitality.

Gallares frames it in these terms:  “In today’s fragmented world, which is characterized by different levels and degrees of homelessness, our mystic spirit, our sense of ‘belonging to God’ must open us up to others and to the world, to offer ourselves, our communities and our planet earth as a hospitable place for humanity and the whole of God’s creation.”

Gallares, like Lydia, is well aware of the risks involved.  Being from the third world (the Philippines)—as well as being a woman—she understands the dangers of violence and terrorism.  Still:  “All the more we are called to stretch our hearts to create a place for people who do not share our belief, our values, our culture, our background, and points of view.  How can we listen with an open heart, willing to understand where the other is coming from?  This is the true spirit of hospitality.  It is not abrogated when there is danger or differences, but only at that moment proves itself to be genuine hospitality.” 

We all experience homelessness to a degree.  As humans, we are alienated—we are in a foreign land.  As Christians, the waters of baptism carry us to our homeland.