It seems so unfair and UN-understandable. Does God select some people for no happy endings? On and on and on. One closed door after another. No matter how hard one works. Disapponitments. What is the point of suffering...prolonged suffering? Why does God treat people differently?
St. Rubia, I'm not sure why you're blaming God for suffering. Do you have a particular case or example in mind?
Actually, I wrote that while reflecting on a certain pattern I've noticed among some loved-ones. I thought I'd noticed a similar pattern in the Bible as well. Abraham's long wait for a son, the 40 years in the desert before the Hebrews got to Canaan, Job's experience, the various exiles of the Israelites, The book of Tobit, the long, long wait for the Messiah etc. God seems a little too "patient" for my human anxieties. Is there a particular reason God seems to take people through extremely long periods of anguish or waiting before he answers a prayer? It seems some people get their answers fast, others have to wait, not just longer, but much, much so. Is there something specific about certain people, as if they've been selected for especially long periods of suffering than others? Or perhaps some kind of benefit or special blessing related to the long period? I know that no one suffers indefinitely or experiences perfect fulfillment of their wishes uninterruptedly in this life. We do both, just that some people seem to have a bigger share of one than others.
Incidentally, though, after that post, miracles happened almost all at once, so that the stuff I was referring to as "suffering" now seems almost totally resolved in almost the blink of an eye, and this after years and years of suffering. I wonder if there is a particular reason God in so many Bible stories and in the lives of many spiritual or at least praying people, seems to work this way? Very interesting to me.
Hard to say, St. Rubia.
I am currently working on a booklet, "God and the Problem of Suffering," so I have been thinking a lot about this. Two thoughts pop up in response to your post above.
1. The age we live in is not what God had intended for the human race. We are fallen/redeemed, and there will be a future in which "every tear will be wiped from our eyes; there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away." (Rev. 21:4) In the meantime, however, there is suffering, death, etc.
2. Even in this age, however, we can be happy if our deepest desire is to live in God's presence. God is always here, now, loving, but if we tell ourselves we need something more to be happy, it's a set up for disappointment. "Nothing can separate us from the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ . . ." (Rm 8:31-39), and Paul lists a range of possible obstacles, including sickness, hunger, persecution, powers of hell, etc. This is not to say that we won't have the discomfort of suffering, only that in the love of Christ, one can still be hopeful and even joyful. Amazing!
What comes to my mind is that people somehow, unconsciously believe that suffering shouldn't exist and that its existence is an outrageous scandal. This is interesting, since this is Christian teaching about the state of innocence, before the fall. We were created as fragile, but at the same time offered a life without tears and misery. We rejected this and - I dare to say what St. Augustine said - we fully deserve every suffering there is. But God is offering, again, endless life without tears and misery, if we decide to accept his love again in this brief life.
Of course, the problem is THAT life and our present suffering. But what helped me to deal with pain of life (of course, it is a long-term process of learning how to suffer) is to fully accept that life is painful, in this way or another. There is a beautiful story about a woman whose child died and she asked Buddha why it happened to her. Buddha answered that he will explain it to her, she just has to bring him one little seed from a home when there is no suffering. Of course, she didn't find such home and this was her answer. So what helps, as far as my experience goes, is a bit of searching for this seed - I realized that I don't know anyone who doesn't have loss, pain, sickness, death in his life and his family. Sometimes I'm grateful that my problems and pain is so little in comparison to what might happen and happens to others.
The other thing that helps is the Cross. Sometimes I have this sudden realization: Our God is hanging on the cross, dying in agony. Wait a minute, our GOD IS HANGING ON THE CROSS... Not looking from "up there" on us, poor little beings, with all our pain and misery. No, he is right here, suffering with us, for us, so that we could endure as he endured.
This is mind-blowing:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
We desire to eliminate suffering, we want life of bliss, but he, our God, had all the bliss and freely decided to share our pain. He is not a sadist, he is not callous, he is not some mathematical formula, he is not some compassionate charity activist, looking down upon us to give us some money. No, no, no. He came down and immersed himself in the ocean of pain and emerged from it, returning to heaven. And his Spirit enables us, if we love him, to immerse ourselves in the ocean of pain and ascend with him to heaven. We don't have to look for pain. It is always there for us.
Our God used the inevitable pain of our reality to give us the abundance of life, love and happiness.
Well, he is omnipotent, he should find out how to create a world without pain, why doesn't he heal all sicknesses... Hello, our GOD IS HANGING ON THE CROSS, DYING IN AGONY...
Right, Mt. He stepped into the mess with the rest of us and experienced temptation, rejection, pain and death. God is with us in our sufferings, and if we can remember this, the suffering becomes more tolerable, even transformative. For the Cross, after all, is not the last word. There are resurrections to come in this life, and the complete transformation with the resurrection of the dead.
Guys, is it ok to strive not to suffer, to strive to be happy, in this earthly life, as much as possible? Is it alright not to desire to be ascetic? If one is faced with suffering, one accepts it, offers it up, one's own and others' suffering. That seems very sensible to me, but must one seek discomfort deliberately? Sometimes I get the impression from church groups/spiritual writings that this attitude---not wanting to suffer---is somewhat bad. We are almost supposed to seek it out, the suffering.
I was educated and formed by Opus Dei folk and love and respect them dearly. But I feel disinclined to follow their activities any further. Because I believe I am INFJ in the Jung/MBTI typology, and I believe lots of methods are not designed for dominant intuitives like me and end up feeling more like suffering than spiritual activity. I had the thought the other day that God will accept my hapharzard way of communicating with him, as I do with my family, rather than force myself into a routine/rigid STJ box that I believe most social systems are made to conform with.
I wonder how much these psychological differences and the different functions influence our spiritual choices? I think I have become more attracted to metta meditation and the self-observation of Buddhism, precisely because it accords with how my mind works. I cannot do the concentrative stuff, but simple observations of my feelings, thoughts, asking if they are true, precisely if I am in the grip of negative emotion, is so natural to me. Doing much of the stuff that some catholic spiritualities do...gazillion rosaries and vocal/repetitive prayer, highly structured and routine, is something I can do only with lots of effort. It is very asetic to me.
If we can seek happiness, can we not seek the easiest, most natural way to pray? I can ask Jesus, to show me the truth, and even turn the questioning into an conversation, no? I dont want to go to opus dei retreats any more but I dont know others. Is this wise? To structure prayer according to innate preferences rather than established methods?
I know this is not about suffering per se, but...relates to the question of how far one can go seeking one's own happiness without turning into the forbidden self-seeking.
That sounds right to me. I'd say you're on the right track.
I wouldn't say this is selfish. In fact, I would say the opposite. Your practice is all about removing the selfing from the mind.
Echoing Derek's remarks . . .
There is a legitimate self-love that is foundational in the spiritual life, a self-acceptance and desire for happiness that is a just response to the Creator's gift of life and love. If one rejects this, then what is left? A psycho-spiritual black hole!
There is no need to go looking for suffering and the cross. Opus dei has sometimes seemed a bit close to Jansenism in their spirituality, but I'm sure every group is different.
Is there no one out there with whom you can meet for spiritual direction? It could be helpful to sort through all these kinds of questions.
There is no point in looking for suffering, since suffering will come on its own and it will be just what you need. God gives us the kind of cross we need, not the kind we like or think we need.
I think you're speaking about "praying in the way that we can, instead of praying in the way that we can't" - there is a saying like this, I don't know if this functions in English as well. There are a lot of forms of prayer, but there is only one PRAYER, loving relationship with God. Whatever helps you remain in this relationship, is a good prayer. Whatever hinders you, is not so good.
But spiritual direction has a good "objectifying" effect, since we can be easily deluded and believe that our selfish desires are really inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Ignatius Loyola taught that up to a certain point we should do in prayer what is against our will, but after a certain point we should do what we feel is good. But perhaps a spiritual director would help you discern that.
Yes, it does. "Pray as you can, not as you can't." For example, St. Teresa of Avila freely admits that she couldn't do traditional meditatio, so she found her own methods. It reminds me of that other piece of wisdom, "The best translation of the Bible is the one you actually read."
Hey, if I found a spiritual director, I would be happy to bug him with all my questions rather than you guys. If I approached Opus Dei, they would totally guilt trip me about reading any material but the approved ones, would insist I just push through my laziness and do the usual exercises.
I think of meditation, the observation of self, as a kind of practical way of practicing detachment from my bodily, mental and enotional processes. As I notice my own reactivity, there is a tiny bit of detachment that happens and this helps in noticing my reactivity to others reactivity so that I feel I have a little bit more freedom in making choices in that moment rather than simply automating/reacting. If I am detached from my reactivity to others behaviour or words, I find I am able to look at the person objectively rather than as an enemy, even if briefly, and in that short space of objectivity, I can make a different choice rather than do what I would usually do. This different choice may be: remaining silent and not responding at that moment, thinking things over and then approaching them at a different time, or it may be to listen without judging them which I would do when I am defensive (that is reacting).
Things like these don't seem like prayer per se, but I think one can make a prayer out of it, if the intention is to be aligned with God's will, that is, to not harm others, which I feel now as a sharp, core need. The pain I feel after an altercation in which I have hurt someone with sharp words or perhaps, though rarely, actions, is unbearable and I feel helpless to make it better or wipe away the harm. I say a prayer to the Holy Spirit Fr. Robert Spitzer taught in his "five pillars of the spiritual life" which goes: Lord, please undo the harm I have caused. This is the only thing that soothes, I think God can undo any bad effects I may have introduced into the world or the life of another person.
Thing is, so far, only two things seem effective for me in trying to tame my reactivity: A prayer to Mary dedicating a relationship or person or self to her, or two, meditation which I am learning from Buddhist leaning people. I just want a way to practice and be calm and of good disposition/good will, but like I said before, my motivation is to be happy. I agree there is nothing wrong with seeking happiness but it seems years of running around certain circles ingrains a certain attitude which goes like:
Seeking happiness for oneself is selfish/bad
One can never be one's own object of compassion. Its ok to be good to others but never to oneself.
It may seem weird reading such sentences but these are attitudes I personally have struggled alot with and still am. It may be a combination of jansenism or other issues, or personality type, but for me, trying to be compassionate towards myself and self-accepting, is an extremely difficult thing and even now that I have overcome the hurdle (I think) of viewing self-rejection as somewhat spiritually advanced, I am still struggling to just do it, live with myself. This is why I think these practices, metta and self-observation, are helpful, and why I think no matter my deepest intentions I have usually reacted badly to others and hated myself later...I really think hurting oneself makes it very hard not-to-do the same thing to others whatever your intentions.
Thank you all for "listening."
St. Rubia, a basic premise of St. Thomas Aquinas (Doctor of the Church) is that God created us to be happy (and Benjamin Franklin says that's why He gave us beer ). There have been negative teachings about life, happiness, the body, etc. from the early days of Christianity, conflating legitimate asceticism with life-denying desires. In the early Church, some gnostic groups considered matter to be evil, and sought to suppress anything associated with bodily pleasure. Later, the Jansenists in France (then throughout the Church) promoted a message emphasizing suffering and self-denial, at the expense of legitimate self-love and happiness. On the Protestant side, the Puritans did pretty much the same.
Re. "meditation" -- the way you speak of it is more in the Eastern sense, but not the way St. Teresa of Avila intended. When she referred to "meditatio," she meant reading and reflecting, or mental prayer. That's what the term has referred to in Christianity. So you can see that this is indeed prayer, and very good prayer, at that. Although St. Teresa struggled with it, as Derek noted, she did not excuse herself from the discipline, and wrote extensively about helpful ways to pursue it.
It might be interesting to discuss Opus Dei, so if you'd like to start a topic about it on this forum, please feel free to do so. I'd be interested in hearing more about your experiences.
I didn't mean to give the impression that opus dei is somewhat sinister. They are wonderful people, has been my experience. I just don't think I can continue with the ways they taught me to think, see myself and the world. No one ever told me to hate myself, so this may just be a mixture of my own misunderstanding of their spirituality and my own personality issues and not them. But they did emphasize the idea that its good to somehow "find" suffering, and be happy about it. I am forever grateful to them for pulling me out of despair by introducing me to authentic Catholicism at the right time in my life, giving me a "way" to follow, excellent priests to hear my confessions and spiritual books, and also for instilling in me devotion to our Lady. Without opus dei, I would not be a catholic, or even Christian, so please do not take my comments as a denunciation. I just think I cant continue to do things as they do any more. And I cant "embrace" suffering except as accepting it when it comes my way as something God himself has permitted for my own good.
Phil.....I can't do that reading/reflecting thing any more, honest. I can do rosary in a soft/open mental way, but is it necessary to do that kind of spiritual reading meditation you are talking about? If I do read, I read like a story-book, open to whatever may stick, but that kind of very focused reasoning thing where I deliberately try to make the words "mean" something just isn't something I can do any more without feeling like I'm torturing myself. If something pops, it pops on its own and the meaning is something I can easily reflect on, but otherwise, its just a session in forcing things.
St. Rubia, I know Pope John Paul II was very enthusiastic about Opus Dei, and even fast-tracked the canonization of Fr. Escriva. I think we have a chapter in Wichita, KS, but I don't know anyone who belongs to it. Opus Dei has been somewhat controversial in the U.S., mostly among liberal Christians who accuse it of being cultish and elitist. But there's no doubting the Vatican's approval of their message and even methods.
Many people have difficulties with mental prayer. People drawn to contemplative prayer find it especially difficult to do so, and St. John of the Cross discouraged spiritual directors from insisting that their contemplative directees force themselves to do so. What is important is that one prays, and in a manner that feeds one's soul. Study is also important, however, though I do not consider it to be the same as mental prayer.
What's sometimes helpful is to read the scriptures mindfully rather than reflectively -- to let your full attention rest in the words, and let them wash over you like water in a shower. That's how I do the liturgy of the hours -- read it as though it is my prayer to God, or, better, Christ praying through me. Such reading is prayerful and deeply formative. If it touches off a reflective insight, that's fine; you can get back to that later.
I'm doing a webinar series on Christian prayer soon.
- see http://shalomplace.com/inetmin/webinars/prayer.html and feel free to sign up.
I remember Teresa had also difficulties with mental prayer and she wrote that reading spiritual books helped her a lot. She was in a lot of trouble, when the spanish inquisition forbade spiritual book in Spanish and she didnt read Latin.
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