Let's use this thread to discuss Consent Four.
I understand what you wrote about suffering and how it can move us closer to God. I've heard many a testimony to that in the Churches I've attended.
However, suffering doesn't always work to move a person closer to God. We can't rely on that alone. There has to be a link to God for this grace, as you describe it to take place.
Certainly, suffering world wide has led to the horrors of terrorism.....the terrorists obviously didn't move closer to God out of their suffering although many victims did...I understand that.
My understanding of God and suffering is that it is our actions as individuals that bring the redemptive meaning to suffering. If we are people of faith we can work through our suffering in our personal lives and move closer to God.
What I'm struggling with in my own work with the poor is how or when to assist others in making the connection between suffering and God's grace. (I work as a public defender on an Indian reservation)
If you are a minister, everyone knows what you believe and the people talk to you about these issues. If they don't talk to you about suffering and faith, they at least watch you by example to see how your relationship with them mirrors your relationship with Christ.
I don't feel I can have the conversation about how suffering can turn the people who ask me for help to God....not yet anyway.
I feel my only option is to love them and pray for them privately. The connection between the horrible suffering in their lives and God is a mystery...the only thing I know is how to pray for their peace.
Perhaps prayer can help make the connection. I guess what I'm saying is that without a concious relationship with God, suffering is useless....it is just the work of the opposition. The statement that suffering leads us closer to God is not, in my opinion an absolute truth, it is a relative, subjective experience based on a person's faith.
Oh well,,,,leave it to a lawyer to go on and on.
God bless all the brothers and sisters on line.
"Suffering is the consequence of our disharmony with God. It was not intended by God, but it does not fall outside of God's providence, either. In our fallen/redeemed world, suffering is used by God to indicate where disharmony lies, and to motivate us to let go of our harmful attachments and addictions. Without suffering, we would have little motivation to change harmful behaviors and attitudes. Hence, suffering can serve God's will insofar as it moves us to let go of "our way" and embrace God"s."
I have a big problem with the above: I had a dear friend who died last year at the age of 80. She had been brought up by a Protestant father (very patriarchal) and an RC Italian mother. She had stayed at home with her parents until they died, had studied as her father wanted but had changed later in life to study art at which she excelled. Very late in life she met a man and fell in love. It's a long story but they were never able to live as a couple but through their love she knew great joy. When he died, she suffered from cancer, was operated on and for a few years lived without pain. She was very committed to both communities, studied the Bible, led groups and worshipped several times a week, but her end was awful . As she died her body was so brittle she could not be touched without that it caused terrible pain. She talked constantly of how she believed totally in God's Providence. How then did her suffering such a terrible death help her and how can it possibly serve God?
Thank, Phil for the chance of sharing this as, whilst it does not affect my own belief, it does bother me. Sue
Renee, This is so beautiful. You are so close to the truth in what you are saying. I think the only word missing in what you wrote is that with the prayer, with the opening to the divine, in order for suffering to be redemptive it must come through pure love. Christ exemplifies the suffering of the purity of love.
It is quite different from just doing for other people. Love is the alchemy, the transformation that allows it to be transfigured in the golden light of God. It is the purity of love that opens the way for new life to be born through us.
It is a holy moment.
Yes, I know that this Fourth Consent is a hard one, which is why I've placed it after the first three. If we are open to living life to the full, trusting in God's providential care, and practicing loving service, then there is a greater possibility that the unavoidable pains and hardships we come upon can be borne redemptively -- that we will grow through these times, and even be helpful to others. There is also the possibility of unredemptive suffering, as Renee notes, but you aren't likely to see this in people who practice the first Three Consents. Indeed, there is non-redemptive "non-suffering" as well -- people who are leading comfortable lives and are far from God. Suffering, for such, can be something of a "wake-up call," and that's the point Mersch is making.
As for how the prolonged suffering of a person such as Sue mentions falls within God's providence, we might consider what was said about Providence in the Second Consent. Providence is no guarantee that everything will go OK -- that we'll have good jobs, good health, great kids, and die in our sleep at age 98. It means that God will always give us what we need to know, love and serve God, regardless of health or circumstances. It sounds like the woman with cancer knew the truth of this, and that her suffering was her prayer. Sometimes it is all we have to bring to God; what God does with our prayers and acts of service is outside of our control, but we do believe God uses all acts of love to bring forth His reign on earth.
The mysterious Holy Spirit is at work! You are certainly an agent for that invisible Friend, Phil!
Challenging stuff! But I do believe, at least in my own experience, that whatever happens to us in our lives, love is an invitation to somehow find the redemption in it, to allow love to transform it, to harvest something from even from what we cannot explain. The mystery holds both the darkness and the light, and we bring love to both, if we follow in the beautiful energy of Christ. There are moments so terrible, that they have left me trembling, and yet, if I grab hold of the hem of those who walk in the energy of love, I feel the hope.
If I fall on my knees and cry out for help to see something in a higher way, to call for the light of a higher view, it comes. Love answers me. If we rely on our minds, we will be plunged into the darkness...that we fear.
Christ is not separate from us, but within our hearts, and the Spirit of Love dwells in the light, forever ready to emerge, if we dare to love in the face of whatever happens to us. It is transformation of the highest order, and it is available to every one of us.
Suffering is what none of us wants, and yet, those who live in the illusion of being above it, are no longer living. It is a furnace, and we rise out of the ashes with Christ.
I am in awe of the honesty of your sharing as you wrestle with the angels. We are more willing to believe what we are not, than what we truly are.
I heard a poem on NPR today which reminded me of our topic. I'm copying part of it here. It is written by Li-Young Lee from"Self Help for Refugees" This man writes about his childhood in communist China...He writes:
If you happen to have watched armed men
Beat and drag your father
Out the front door of your house and into the back of an idling truck
Before your mother jerked you from the threshold and
Buried your face in her skirt folds
Try not to judge your mother too harshly
Don't ask her what she thought she was doing
Turning a child's eyes away from history
and toward that place all human aching starts.
I began thinking about how often as a child and young adult those around me would try to shelter me from suffering. As an adult, I sometimes get angry about that because I feel I am catching up with being able to deal with death and sickness. I am still confused, especially when Naomi connects love and suffering. Wow.
I agree that a lot of our suffering, addictions, etc. come from the place of running from suffering.
Last night I watched a show about how my generation (those turning 50 now) are refusing to retire and are starting new careers and are olympic hopefulls, etc. I thought, here we go again..the world is teaching that suffering can be avoided. My generation is somehow different and we are going to live jogging and laughing into old age.
This poem just struck me. Forgive them all for trying to turn us away from suffering for there really is no way out. We place our heads on our mother's laps and connect to the "place where all human aching starts"
Just thinking about suffering today.
Thanks for listening.
Today is Saturday. My husband and I are supposed to go to the St. Pat's Day auction that one of our church's organizations hosts annually.
My husband woke up today in so much pain that he can hardly walk. He has spent the whole day on the coach moaning and crying out in pain. He says things like "I feel like I am letting everybody down" and "I need to work through this pain" and "I can't believe that this pain hasn't lifted" and "What did I do that caused this? I felt fine when I went to bed last night."
I don't say much. I have heard him say all of the these things many many times. I used to try to respond, but nothing I say ever seems very helpful to him. So mostly I don't say anything. I did say that he didn't have to go to the auction if he didn't feel up for it. But he insisted that he wants to go.
My husband is not a religious man. He doesn't believe in much of anything spiritually. Probably the only thing he believes in is himself. And now he has to give that up, too. He has struggled with this illness (MS) for over 10 years now and it still has not brought him to a place where he has a need for God. In fact, I think he is still in a state of denial about the whole thing.
So, I agree with Renee. Since he STILL has no conscious relationship with God his suffering seems useless to me, too.
I'm not sure about what the etiquette is for on line retreats. I've never participated in one before sooo I hope I am not getting off the topic too much here. I just feel I have to respond to your e-mail about your husband with MS. I just want to share with you a little bit of my story.
I think I have seen a good amount of suffering in my personal life...a survivor of abuse, economic struggles, many many funerals. I also consider myself a spiritual seeker. The hard times inevitably bring me closer to God and the experiences can be very fruitful in their own way. There is one suffering, that I just can't seem to find a spiritual way out of yet and that is physical pain. I have an odd bone disease called fibrous dysplasia plus rheumatoid arthritis, and now something neurological that they haven't figured out yet. (actually maybe ms). I have been in chronic pain for about five years and the past year has been extreme. I whine to my husband like your husband whines to you. It seems I almost never turn to God when in physical pain. It is almost like someone is beating you up and you can't stop to pray. YOu have to keep defending yourself...trying to move one step at a time.
Occasionally the mds get the pain under control and then I can step back a little and think about how I can find a spiritual meaning in all this.
I don't know. I sometimes think of myself as "spiritual failure" when I get into these pain attacks and turn a blind eye to God.
So, I'm just writing because, I sympathize and I can understand how someone in a lot of physical pain can turn from God. Seems like I am doing it all the time these days and my physical suffering is useless..... and I think I'm spiritual. So go figure.
Prayers tonight for you. Being the caregiver to a person in pain must be really tough. I think my husband is a living saint.
Dear Anne, having worked w/ MS patients for years I'm very familiar w/ the personality traits and the difficulty that the patients have w/ psychological dysfunctions like depression and mood swings etc due to neurological and brian dysfunction. As much as this frustrates you as a care giver all I ask is that since he is unable to give it over to God i ask you to do it for him so that he will be able to feel the graces of God and be opened to Divine intervention. It is hard to see the blind wallwhen when keeps banging into it. and it hurts but if you ask God for the graces to ease the bumps and try to allow you to minister some joy and compassion to your husband maybe that will melt the wall a little. It won't be easy In fact it will probably be the hardest job God's ever asked of you but I'm sure you are open to it.... I hope I have not offended anyone w/ my respnse. I know full well the process of losing one's independence and how hard it is to deal w/ constant pain. It sure makes life interesting.. But God is there if you ask I know... He's been my companion these past six years since my first of 3 strokes...
Renee, I used to work as A nurse on the Indian Reservation and worked very carefully to make sure I cleared everthing w/ the Chief & respect the indian culture. But trust is a real issue w/ them and it takes a long time for the culture to accept an outsider and for anyone to truly comprehend their culture and way of thinking and doing. Even for caring for the patients they wouldn't believe you had their best interests at heart. It takes much patience and endurance to understand the difference in mindsets and cultures and thinking and spirituality to advance in friendship but it can be accomplished. But it's frustrating and mindboggling and incomprehensible at times. But that is where the Holy Spirt comes in and good listening skills and The first 3 consents... Cath
Is it Possible?
Is it possible to die from longing,
to be strung into threads
from an unraveled life
from one universe to another?
Is it possible to drown in another heart,
to feel the rising tides
of waves washing through my being
flooding my soul with love?
Is it possible to feel a fire
blazing through a forgotten age
melting the frozen world of time
into the glory of spring?
Is it possible to disappear
in the rushing currents of the river
and arise in the breathless beauty
of an eternal sea?
Is it possible that the yearning
to touch the face
of the beloved in the moon
is the force that turns the world?
Is it possible that surrendering
to love spreads the wings of spirit
to fly beyond the boundaries
that separate us all?
Is it possible for the furnace
of suffering to transform the world
and create a glow that could
turn the darkness into dawn?
Is it possible to fall into sleep
longing for the green valleys
of promise in a dream
and awaken in a garden of peace?
I offer my questions as a prayer,
Thank you so much for your response. A few thoughts.........
In regards to prayer in the midst of physical pain: I've had some experience with migraines and I've found that it's nearly impossible to "meditate" in a head that is filled with pain. If I had a good prayer routine in place, it would most certainly be interurupted for several days because I could not pray when I had a migraine.
I wouldn't say that my husband "turned away" from God because of his MS. I don't think he was ever facing God to begin with. Based on what you are saying, there doesn't seem to be much of a chance that physical pain is ever going to turn him in God's direction. So how does one view the situation? Are we back to Phil's opening statement in 4a: Life is hard and then you die? These are the cards we've been dealt? Are we to somehow make an effort to flourish in these circumstances?
Phil wrote in 4a:
"Hence, suffering can serve God's will insofar as it moves us to let go of "our way" and embrace God's."
I would say that my husband has not let go of "his way." This would be that denial that I spoke of yesterday. Sometimes I tell him that he is still in a state of denial.
You say that your husband is a living saint. Well, my husband is my hero. He is such a fighter. Every day he struggles down the steps, rests on the couch for a while, then drags his right leg into the kitchen to make his coffee and just generally get his body going. I don't know HOW he does it. I know I would have given up the fight long ago.
Most of our days together are not like yesterday. Saturday was one of the worst days he's had in a long long time. Today my husband was back to being his regular handicapped self. This evening we had Chinese food together. We especially enjoyed the egg drop soup. I wonder how they make it which such a thick consistency?
And I wouldn't call myself a caregiver....not yet anyway. I'm still a partner....though oftentimes a helpless partner. This summer when I was on retreat I read something that said that if you loved somebody you could stand at the foot of their cross for a very long time. Trouble is, there isn't much you can do from down there. My director said that I shouldn't think about the "long time" part. She said that God only asks me to stand there for one day---just for today.
Dear Anne, Have you ever thought that your role in life is for you to show the face of God to your Husband and eventually somehow God will help you or your husband break down the walls and give him internal peace and the peace and Joy you so want him to experience,Your continual example of love and support and being there is the prime example of service as far as I can see. Suffering may not be pain physically at times but emotional pain and struggle I think is even harder to cope w/ and trying to continue to help someone on this road. That takes true perserverance and grace. My God what Blessings you are graced w/ and How the Holy sPIRIT WORKS IN YOUR LIFE ON A dAILY BASIS. iN THE SIMPLE DAILY TASKS OF BEING YOU AND HELPING YOUR SPOUSE.... tHAT IS SERVICE...TO THE ENGTH DEGREE THAT IS SO OFTEN FORGOTEN AND WE OVERLOOK BECAUSE WEJUST DO THIS ON A DAILY BASIS. bUT sT tHERES OF lISIEUX AND mOTHER tHERSA WOULD BE THE FIRST TO TELL YOU LIVE SIMPLY AND LOVE SIMPLY FOR YOU CAN DO GREAT THINGS .... i MUST SAY YOU ARE SO bLESS AND GRACED AND YOUR HUSBAND IS A VERY LUCKY MAN AND YOU ARE LUCKY TO HAVE HIM... cATHY
Physical pain is a real challenge, all right. Some writers like to make a distinction between pain and suffering, the latter being brought about by the reaction we have to life's pain.
I recall a powerful scene from the movie, "Therese," which is based on the life of St. Therese Lisieux. Therese died of TB, which was excruciatingly painful, at times. In one scene, she asks a sister to say, "That's good," every time Therese said, "It hurts." It was a gut-wrenching scence, as Therese moaned and screamed, "It hurts," with her weeping friend responding, "That's good." Eventually, Therese is able to release her agony; she calms down and is able to rest.
Prayers and deep empathy for all those who experience pain -- especially Anne's husband and the many who see no "light at the end of the tunnel." May they find God waiting for them in their pain, and come to the hope that what we suffer in this life is all out of proportion to the joys to come. (Rm. 8: 18)
In the last few years I've gotten back to a love that I left behind years ago... painting. Amazing how much I had forgotten about brush strokes and technique and composition and all the details. I was forced by several really bad paintings to take a long look again at something I had neglected-- the presence of empty space in my art work. I forgot that the paint I applied to the canvas was only beautiful as it related to the empty space around it. When I look at all of creation I also forget the importance of empty space. The beauty we see, the true grace of life, is only partly due to the hues and tones of color and shadow. The one forgotten element is what's not there.
So then, could it be that half of the beauty and richness of God's grace is found in what we see as otherwise empty space? For instance, Anne says that her husband "isn't much of a religious man and that he doesn't believe in much of anything spiritually." Okay, well if God is present both in our fulness and our emtiness maybe God is closer to him than we realize. The gap between what we see and what we don't see is frog-hair thin. This doesn't change his immediate suffering of course, but for me it does keep hope alive and gathers more prayer for those who suffer with the pain of not experiencing God in their lives. For those of you who live with chronic pain, would it be fair to ask if you would trade one for the other at any time in the process? Is there a time in the deepest physical pain that you could give up your experience of God if you could be free from the pain? Honestly, I hate to ask this question. I have known the spiritual pain of no experience of God but never having dealt with long term physical pain (more than two weeks) I don't know how bad it can get. Yet for Anne's husband I wonder which pain hurts him worse. And, if they are,
how are they connected?
I'm not sure what you are asking. Are you asking about the connection between physical and spiritual pain? Don't think I have the answer but wanted to make sure I got the question right.
"The difference between a rut and a grave"?????
I don't know but it seems that ruts often run alongside the road you are on and you sometimes fall into them but eventually get back on the road.
My question for Doctor Phil is what is the difference between "a dark night of the soul" and a rut? Or better yet, how do you know which one you are in?
And if you find yourself in a "grave" how do you know if it is just the dying of self to be open to eternal life or if you are just plain dead?
Just wondering if you had a quick answer to all of that.
I am not Dr. Phil, thank heavens, but I read an interesting study of a bird in a cage that flew in the same patterns every day. They put the bird in a cage that was five times as large with a space that opened out below it. It continued to fly in the same patterns in the top of the cage, never venturing into the new space.
It seems we wear grooves in our brains that keep us from making new connections and expanding our choices. That sounds like a rut.
They have opened the door to the cage, and some birds never fly out of it. They have somehow not been wired for choice.
My sister learned to live with suffering most of her life. When the cause was removed, I watched her create suffering out of nothing, because it was what she knew, and it brought her a kind of attention that she didn't want to give up.
Who are we to know the answers to the mystery of each person's fate and how they respond to it? It is enough to wrestle with our own.
When we love another, we move into whatever space they will allow us to enter. Danny, your description of painting and the invitation of emptiness to create and receive is beautiful.
There is a Persian word, leila, which means to create and destroy. That pattern flows freely in creation. We find our rhythm, our balance, and hopefully an expression of our hearts in the polarity of both.
Interesting question, would we trade a moment of God to lift our pain? Would we give our soul to be granted the answer to our prayer? It seems our finest hour is when we can love through the joy as well as the pain, through grief and loss, in the face of betrayal, in loneliness and in the company of friends, whatever we are doing, whoever we are with, and however long we last.
Dr. Phil, eh?
I think Naomi has given some good examples of a rut. You might think of it as habits and even compulsions that run our lives for us -- a kind of "default consciousness." It a consequence of years of living a certain way and is practically hard-wired in the brain -- very difficult to change, without hard work.
A Dark Night, in the formal understanding of the term, signals a shift to knowing God less by feeling and more by faith. Sometimes it's also about entering into a more contemplative journey. So Dark Nights aren't ruts; quite the opposite. They're about becoming more conscious and intentional in our faith life.
- - -
Interesting points Danny raises about "empty space." This is the background for everything, including our inner experiences. What would thoughts be without the spaces between them, or sentences without the period?
Well, wouldn't we agree that God IS with my husband, whether he realizes/acknowledges it or not? I think that he might see "needing God" as a sign of weakness. But perhaps at some level he does believe. Is this what you mean, Danny?
Thank you all who are sharing such deep feelings of suffering.I, for one, believe that God is with your husband, Anne, as he brought him 'here' and I will keep him in my prayers.
As yet, I know nothing of long term physical suffering but 4d on resentment is something I know a lot about!! Before I left on my retreat I was carrying a huge amount of it and as Phil says, it is poison. On arrival at the monastery, I saw there was a conference about to start and the subject was 'forgiveness'.(truly the Lord's timing). The Franciscan brother said so much that made so much sense on this subject and how we have to forgive and that it will make us ill if we don't.(he said so much more, but that was the bit I needed to hear. I spent some time in the prayer chapel after which I felt such peace. I understood how much both the person and I needed me to forgive. But my problem is that whilst this all stems from the past (as again, Phil said) it continues in the sense that this person is seen in our community to be this amazing Christian, teaching children, calling us to pray for certain needs, heading our parish council etc etc. you name it they are controlling it!! I have seen them fall down stairs from the influence of alcohol, now I only see the shaking (i.e.. I cannot swear that they are still an alcoholic as I don't have contact with them in their home now, but see the shaking hands).What I still get is the passive/aggressive mails etc. This person is so sick but refuses to get help. My mentor and a Locum with whom I shared this problem both say I should stay in our church (I was ready to leave to release myself of this burden). But it is tough and after 11 years of it, I've had enough. So, I am back to square one in trying not get obsessed with it all once again.
In answer to Anne's question... yes Anne that is the way I see it too. I have no doubt that God is there with your husband even if he doesn't realize it. And I think you are right about many men and their reasons for resisting God... pride or a sense of independence.
On the questions about dark nights, I'm wondering if we could entertain the idea that maybe dark nights are experiences of the empty spaces or vastness of God. In our normal experience of God, we sense that God is present and close and we often grow accustom to this same experience over time. Curious to think of it, but maybe even our normal experience of God can become a spiritual rut after a while. As faith moves deeper, our normal experiences are tossed aside and we are left with the absence of God rather than the presence we have always known. Question is, how does this perception of absence affect our faith?
I'm reminded of Mother Teresa and how for many years at the end of her life she describes very little if any of the normal consolations from God's presence. Most of her "experience" of God was better described as emptiness. It seems that for Mother Teresa toward the end of her journey, her encounters with Christ came through the faces of the people on the streets of Calcutta. In one way, I could see the fact that she continued in her christlike service to others even without any consolation from God as indications of a truly deep and abiding faith. Many readers of her book seem shocked to hear that this happened to her. But if God is in the empty spaces of our lives, the beauty of Mother Teresa's journey becomes all the richer and her faith challenges us who have come to rely so much on the comforts we gain by remaining in our spiritual ruts. I'm seeing that my conforts are holding me back from the sharp edge of faith.
Sue I lived W/ a Pastor like this for over 12 yrs and each week i went to church and prayed that God would help him w/ his anger and his problem and to help me to just keep praying for the transformation of his actstowards others and for all the damage being done. I knew there was nothing I could do but trusted God would work through it all and evnetually that is exactly what happened. Not quite the same as Gov Spitzer but somewhat similar in what goes around comes around. God writes w/ a crooked line which we do not understand and I have learned that there are times when silence is the only answer and prayer and trust in God tto Handle the issue. Next Issue oh the ruts, It is so easy to convince oneself that weare safe and where we should be and have the ole angel of light telling us just that. That's where prayer and discernment and a spiritual diretor or soul mate or very good friend who is totally honest w/ you comes in in helping you read where the Lord is directing you. It is so easy to be convinced to take the easy way out..
I was reading through the last couple of posts and my thoughts were drawn to that familiar scene in the garden where Jesus is wrestling with the reality of his own death. It seems like his struggle is just like ours in many ways. I too am tempted to take the easy way (my will) and leave the hard road (God's will) aside for someone else to follow. I don't mean to suggest that God's will is always the hard way. In reality, I find that the wrestling match between God and I is really the hard part. After I decide which way I'm going (my way or God's way) I can get on with it. But I'm just double minded enough when it comes to God's will that the wrestling back and forth with God can use up all my spiritual energy.
That brings me to Phil's question on death. In my mind I know I'm mortal and that I'm not long for this world. I try not to dwell too long there although I expect my death to be part of my future. This seems like a big event to me. But there are a thousand little deaths along the way. To me these experiences are an opportunity to wrestle with God is smaller ways over the details of how the day goes. To be conscious of even the little ways my will can go contrary to God's will brings a thousand deaths per week. And even though this isn't a very Lenten thing to say, with every death each day comes a little resurrection right along with it! How easy it is for me to forget that in Christ, the deaths we die to self bring with them the resurrection of who we are in Christ with each opportunity. So then Holy Week becomes a pattern for our everyday lives. Forgive me for not staying in the grave any longer than I have too. I can't resist! For me the hardest part of this process is the deciding whose will will be done.
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