Suffering: Chapter 19 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

12 03 2012

by Ian Walden

“With or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the only question is how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.”

How, indeed? Chittister helps by laying bare our more usual, rather less Christ-like, responses to the pain, the disappointment, the anxiety, the rejection and emptiness life throws at us.

Suffering anticipated leaves us paralysed in fear – content to settle for stasis, for comfort, for the illusion of control – rather than attempt anything worthwhile or important or spiritually necessary, for fear of the pain that will (make no mistake) accompany it.

Suffering experienced leaves us crushed in despair – content to survive and endure, to switch off from the life of the world beyond our pain, to allow darkness to fill our horizons and hide our hope – rather than continue to love our (equally hurting) friends and world in whatever ways are left to us.

Coptic Icon“Lent is the season that teaches us that darkness may overtake us but will not overcome good as long as we doggedly refuse to give in to our lesser selves…” Chittister is clear that following Jesus through Lent is about imitating his choice of the worthwhile over the easy, imitating his missional drive (that accepts pain and death as its corollary), and imitating his forgiving, inspiring love for his Father’s world – even from within his own various agonies.

Because as Stacey said last week, until He comes again, we’re it. We are the only presence of Christ on earth that many will ever know. Even if we hurt so much, or fear so much, that that’s barely possible to believe.

Have you recently witnessed anyone’s choices to live, to risk, to step into a new and difficult arena? Have you found strength to love while in pain yourself? If so, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to hear your story. We all need to know pain isn’t the end; that it does not always, cannot always, must not always, have the last word.

Amen. Lord have mercy.


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