Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Mystery of Suffering

These are quotes from Job and the Mystery of Suffering by Richard Rohr.
When suffering comes to you (and sooner or later it comes to everyone), don’t search for any special method of prayer. Just be.

Just sit and accept your cross: accept it totally in the depth of your being. How terribly anguishing, but terribly powerful this method of prayer is. There are many different experiences of suffering, but whatever yours is, don’t try to escape it. Don’t fight it. Just sit with your cross.

Rohr says, To be human means to be imperfect and in process. Grace brings us out of the question of why we are suffering to the amazing recognition, “My life is not about me.” This is the great and saving revelation that comes only from the whirlwind, and we are never ready for it…………We are a continuation of the incarnation, a continuation of the passion and resurrection-we extend the whole life of Christ.

In another chapter Rohr says: I believe that the opposite of subjectivity is not objectivity, but otherness. It is an openness to the other-as other-that frees us for creativity and originality in our response. It is always an encounter with otherness that changes me. If I am not open to beyond-me, I’m in trouble. Without the other, we are trapped inside a perpetual hall of mirrors that only validates and deepens my existing world views. The central theme of the bible is to call people to encounters with otherness: the alien, the sinner, the Samaritan, the Gentile, the hidden and denied self, angels unaware. We need practice in moving outside our comfort zones. It is never a natural response…………

The fruit of the biblical revelation depends more than anything else on having a Lord……..
Allowing God to be our Lord is not something we can do as easily as believing this, doing that…….It is always a process of a lifetime, a movement toward union that will always feel like a loss of self-importance and autonomy……..My experience is that, apart from suffering, failure, humiliation, and pain, none of us will naturally let go of our self-sufficiency. We will think that our story is about us. It isn’t.

Job can be seen as the “pruning” of the branch of it’s pretense of autonomy and all the burden that goes with it-self-validation and self-criticism. Freedom is when you know that neither of them matters. My significance comes from who-I-am-in-God, who-I-am-as-part-of-a-much-larger-whole………..God is carrying me, both the good and the bad parts. There seem to be only two ways that we know this experientially: prayer and suffering.

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Singing in the Spirit: Perfect Harmony

When the world seems to be a giant simmering pot of hatred and violence, I am able to cling to the hope for peace, because of an amazing experience I had many years ago.

I was at my first Charismatic Conference at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. Though ostensibly Catholic, there were Charismatics (Pentecostals) from many mainline protestant denominations. This particular year there were 20,000 of us gathered for Worship in the football stadium. At one point during the sermon the worshippers responded by singing in the Spirit. Singing in the Spirit is when each person sings whatever the Spirit gives them. For some it may just be terms of praise in the believer’s own language, but to an unknown melody given them by the Spirit, for many the words are in a language unknown to the singer and at the same time to an unknown melody. The words, languages, and melodies are all different
For a few moments, I hesitated, since I had never experienced this and I found myself distracted by the differences I heard close to me. But suddenly my own song came bubbling up from deep inside and as more and more voices joined together singing completely different words and melodies, the awesome harmony brought tears of joy.
I cannot normally sing anything without following the lead of a strong voice next to me. But when singing in the Spirit, my own surprisingly high notes stay true to me, yet blend with the whole. That many people singing different melodies in different languages simultaneously in beautiful harmony simply lifts you out of yourself. Somehow, the God within each of us, that is the God of the Universe, bring us together as one body.
I may seriously doubt that any person could teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, but I know first hand that the Spirit can.
And that keeps me praying and seeking and listening and learning to love, even when no country and no person, not even children, are safe from violence.

Dorothy’s Instantaneous Healing

Long ago in my thirties, I was in a Catholic Charismatic (Pentecostal) prayer group that was led by several Sisters of Mercy at their convent.
I, along with Pat, another woman member, were registered to attend the annual Charismatic Renewal Conference at Notre Dame University. At the prayer meeting two days before the conference, a young woman in her early twenties asked if she could go with us. We had spoken about a priest that led a small group of sisters and nurses in a healing ministry, and Dorothy had curvature of the spine with one leg shorter than the other. This caused her to have to wear an ugly built up shoe, it also sometimes caused her pain, and she feared that when she married and became pregnant it would cause more problems. It was too late to register her and probably too late to get her a room in the dorms, but we told her to bring a sleeping bag and stay in our room. So, Dorothy set off with us. We were running a little late and I was worried that we would miss the first large session in the gymnasium, which was the presentation on healing. A couple of weird time changes later we arrived just as it was beginning, but had to sit almost at the very top of the gymnasium. We were supposed to wait until it cleared at the end to find Pat’s sister, who was coming from Pittsburg. As the gym emptied, I prayed nervously about whether to take Dorothy down to the group with the healing ministry. I finally said, “God, if you want them to pray for Dorothy, please bring them up our aisle, and I’ll ask them to pray for her.” The gym was almost empty, but we had not spotted Pat’s sister, so we were still sitting almost at the top on an aisle. Just then, the priest and the others with the healing ministry started up our exact aisle on their way out. As they came near us, I spoke hesitantly, “Father, would you pray for Dorothy here. She has one leg shorter than the other.” He stopped his group and said, “Of course. Let Dorothy sit in your chair here on the aisle.” So, Dorothy moved into my seat and the several prayer members and Pat and I put our hands on her shoulders and held her hands, while the priest led us in a gentle quiet prayer asking God for healing in Jesus name. No frills, no dramatics. Then he stopped abruptly and asked Dorothy, “Did you feel that? I think your leg jumped.” Dorothy with tears flowing, agreed that it had. He then led us in prayers of thanksgiving, smiled, and continued on up the stairs.
As we sat stunned into silence, Pat’s sister appeared next to us. Following her out of the gym, we excitedly recounted our experience with a mixture of laughter and tears of joy. Dorothy suddenly stopped and said in amazement, “I’m limping. My built up shoe is making me lopsided.” So, she took off her shoes and continued on, literally ‘leaping and dancing and praising God.’
After we got to our dorm room, my inner Twin to Thomas kicked in. It ‘just so happened’ that Pat was a physical therapist. For the next hour, I kept making Pat measure Dorothy’s legs over and over. Pat kept reassuring me that they truly matched. No doubt about it. But there was still some visible curvature of her spine. When, in the wee hours of the morning, we began to tire, Pat went to the communal dorm bathroom to brush her teeth. There she met an older woman and told her of our experience, ending with the curious fact that Dorothy’s spine was still curved. The woman reassured her by telling her that her own husband’s leg, which had been a whole inch shorter than his other one, had been healed the year before at this conference. She said that the leg grew immediately, but it took six months for the atrophied muscles to develop fully back to normal.
We finally all went to sleep exhausted, wonderous, thankful, and at peace.
Funnily, since Dorothy now had no shoes to wear, two days of June’s hot sidewalks left her with some blisters on the bottoms of her feet. Maybe we should have prayed some preventative prayers also 🙂
Over the next several months I, of little faith, looked each time our prayer group met to assure myself that Dorothy was indeed happily wearing sandals, flip flops, or tennis shoes.
And almost ten years later, now married and the mother of two children, Dorothy came to our parish to tell her story to our women’s group.
Yes, she was still happily and painlessly wearing sandals.

Scripture: Fact or Truth, Contradiction or Paradox?

Matthew 27:32 says: As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene, Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.
Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26 say pretty much the same thing.
On the other hand, John 19:16b-17 says: So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.
Although John’s gospel was written later than the others and written for the Christian community, John was the only Apostle that scripture actually places at the scene of the crucifixion.
My experience has been that the Spirit was not only involved in the writing of the Scriptures, but is also now involved in the reading of them.
For example:
In the last two weeks of my first year of teaching a combined class of first and second graders, I got completely overwhelmed. I was administering end of year aptitude tests. As each group finished a test, they saw a great light; summer vacation. And they began to bounce off the walls.
Also, as a first time teacher, I was having to face that some of the children were still operating below grade level. I was struggling to deal with the painful reality that there was nothing more I could do at this point.
All in all, I came home one night in a state of high anxiety. I took my bible to my equivalent of a prayer closet, my bath tub. Feeling so inadequate that I desperately wanted to bail out by calling in sick the next morning, I prayed fervently,
“Lord, I need help. I feel like such a failure, I don’t think I can face another day of teaching. I know I’m a horribly weak person to be like this. Please, please help me.”
I tearfully flipped open my bible and began to read. It was Matthew 27:32.
“ As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene, named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.”
My Catholic upbringing’s Stations of the Cross had left me with a vivid image of Jesus falling under the weight of the cross and needing the help of a stranger to complete his mission. The realization that the human Jesus had human limitations and needed human help brought tears of relief with the healing of my self contempt.
At that moment, the phone beside the tub rang. It was Alan, one of the teenagers from my church youth group. He said, “Mrs. Norman, I’m already out of school at the junior high. Could you use any help in the classroom tomorrow?”
“Yes, Simon,” I replied to his confusion. And I drafted my own daughter and son from junior high to help oversee playground games for those already in vacation mode as they finished their tests. And I finished the year with gratitude for God’s understanding of my human limits and the sense of His presence in my small life.
Some years later in a different situation, but asking God’s help for the same feelings of inadequacy, I opened to John 19:16b-17. “So, they took Jesus and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called Golgotha.”
Through this, I heard God calling me to persevere by trusting in His presence and grace in the challenge I was facing. He was bringing me to a new place of less dependency on other people through a closer relationship with him and a deeper faith in His grace.
The Scriptures are not treatises of fact and logic or even just doctrines or rules written in stone. They are also personal letters from God given by the Spirit long ago and continually being brought to life by that same Spirit within us. The combined truth of these two scriptures is that sometimes as humans we need the help of other people, but other times we are called to depend just on the Spirit of God within us.
Not only are humans very different from one another, but we are different people at different times in our life. What we need to hear today, may be the opposite of what we needed to hear yesterday. Truth for unfinished, limited human beings is paradoxical. In the larger picture opposites can be true.
Listen with an open heart and mind for the Spirit speaking to you today and be slow to judge anyone else’s truth.