Category Archives: Suffering
Standing in the line to vote, I’d brought my rolling walker with a seat to use if standing long brought on pain. Three different poll workers kindly asked if I’d like to go to the front of the line. I said no, because I could sit down any time I needed to. They noticed the woman behind me with a bandaged foot and asked her the same. She also said no, there were chairs every six feet. She and I began to chat about the challenges of aging and life in general right now. She shared some difficulties, but then recounted with a light in her eyes how they had turned out to bring about some good changes in her life. I reacted with delight, recognizing grace and a faith we shared. We bonded there in a line, six feet apart, with masks. It was one of those blessed moments of connection. We parted reluctantly after voting and as I drove away I realized from other things that she had probably voted red, while I voted blue. But I also realized that she went back to her life reaching out in love to those familiar faces whom she understood and trusted, while I went back to reaching out to unfamiliar faces, with lives so different from mine. Both of us doing our best to help others and to share the faith that saw us through the hard times.
The problem with a political solution is that it doesn’t take into account that we are born with very different personalities. And though as we grow through stages of life, we can become stronger in undeveloped aspects of our personality, there’s a timing to the process that isn’t under our control.
I once wrote an article called Aliens in the Nest after recognizing how different I was from either of my parents and how different my five children were from one another and at least one of us, their parents.
It takes grace to love across these differences. It takes both time and grace to develop strengths in our weaknesses. What we can handle with the grace of faith now would not have been possible for us at an earlier stage of our personal spiritual development. God gives us grace for the moment.
We cannot force others to be where we are. I keep coming back to the importance of realizing with heart and mind that I and all others are loved completely at our worst, but are also still unfinished at our best. Legislating for others, no matter how strongly we feel and even if we ourselves would with grace be willing to sacrifice our own life for what we believe, doesn’t work. Our call is to help others find that love that frees us all to grow and risk and accept suffering and die knowing we were loved at each stage of our journey.
1. Many have stepped up their gratitude prayers or lists during the “Great Quarantine.” Which really is a wonderful attitude improving thing to do. When I really get into it, I can write numerous pages, until I have to stop for something else. I never realized I had it so good before starting this. This is something many of us experiencing the challenges of age have learned to do to help ourselves to keep on keeping on and to stop us from becoming curmudgeons.
2: The next level is praising God even for the hard parts. Though God doesn’t need the praise, it is an amazing way of connecting with God and experiencing grace, which not only transforms our situation, but eventually us.
3. The third level is to do both and then to develop the habit of reaching out to someone who is housebound by poor health, care giving or not being able to drive. Calls, cards, and asking if they need something when we plan to grocery shop all will help even after quarantine time.
Parker J. Palmer
“I CAN’T BREATHE.” Those words give voice to the terror that has haunted black Americans since the founding of this country. They can also serve as a tragic tag for a political-cultural era in which life has been choked out of so many and so much.
“I can’t breathe” were the dying words of a black man named George Floyd, as a police officer kept a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, while Floyd lay handcuffed on the ground. They are words that thousands of lynching victims in this country might have said as they died, words that freedom-seekers now living in limbo south of our border could say as they watch their dreams and sometimes their children die. All of this is rooted in the racism that American “leaders” have long exploited as a path to power, to which too many whites have given silent assent. “I can’t breathe” might have been the dying words of the 100,000 + American victims of COVID-19 just before they were intubated, deaths that have hit communities of color the hardest. Fewer would have died if our “leaders” valued science above ideology, human life above money and power, and the public interest above their own. Their knees were pressed down on those throats.
“I can’t breath” represents a challenge to the moral credentials of white people—if we fail to speak and act against the racist forces that help fuel #45’s war on democracy. Some of us have been “gasping for breath” since the advance man for birtherism ran for president, polluting the air we breathe with his racism and his taste for fascism. (I do not use the “F-word” lightly, but with the gravity of a student of history. For evidence, see https://tinyurl.com/y5l8hnsj, a piece I wrote for On Being eight months before the 2016 election.)
In the wake of a horrifying week in America, what can we do? If you or I walked down the street and heard a stranger say, “I can’t breathe,” we’d dial 911. We’d stay with the stranger until help arrived and do anything we could, the Heimlich maneuver, or CPR, or a hand to hold. We would NOT walk on by as if nothing were happening. Please, let’s not walk by now. And let’s not indulge the self-serving delusion that there’s nothing we can do. For example…
Alone or with your friends, study articles like “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” at https://tinyurl.com/y7ou7rkd, and act on one or more of the suggestions there.
Use Facebook and other social media to let folks in your network know where you stand. What’s worse, being “un-friended” or failing to take a clear stand on the morally imperative issues of our time?
Speak to family and friends who support racist words and actions, however indirectly. Tell them that you find it hard to breathe in that space. Then take a deep breath, and tell them what you value. Speak the truth with love, but speak the truth.
If you belong to a faith community whose leaders have ignored or even supported the inhumanity so evident in our politics right now, speak up. Tell them that you need to hear muscular love, truth, and justice preached and practiced, not soothing piosity or faithless complicity.
When November arrives, vote for candidates who offer something better than the tragedy we’re living right now, no matter your marginal reservations. Encourage others to do the same. “When you govern with lies, the ballots will fly. Lead without soul, and we’ll defeat you at the polls.”
There’s much we can do. It starts with listening to all who are crying, “I can’t breathe.” Souls—theirs, ours, and and our country’s—depend on us hearing and responding in every way we can.
Christianity is about loving people more than loving to be right.
Christianity is about forgiveness for every one.
Christianity is about experiencing the love of God and passing it on.
Christianity is about learning how to love from the life and death of a Jew named Jesus.
Christianity is about the awesome God of the Universe being within each of us.
Christianity is about realizing that we are all imperfect earthen vessels, each unique, but all slightly cracked, so though we are filled with the Spirit of God, we leak.
Christianity is about knowing Jesus is Risen and is a well where we can go to refill.
Christianity is about realizing that the Spirit of God works in diverse ways in different people: like a geyser, like a gentle bubbling brook, or a silent underground river.
Christianity is about valuing the fruit of the Spirit- peace, joy, love – in whatever wrapping or label it comes.
Christianity is about translating the words “born again” into experiencing the unlimited love of God with both our mind and heart and being freed to respond “YES” to God even when the going gets rough.
Christianity is about Jesus showing us that this life is not all there is.
These are summed up in First Corinthians, Chapter 13.
Face book sent me a memory of advice I gave a friend years ago. It spoke to my condition today. My spiritual director once told me I had spiritual Alzheimer’s. I thought that was a tacky thing to say, since I was caring for my mother who actually had Alzheimer’s. But it appears he may have been right. I think I need a tattoo of these on the inside of my arm!
1. Remind myself that God loves me because of who God is, not who or what I am.
2. Pray the most used prayer: “Help!”
3. Reassure myself that struggle and dark times are a natural and necessary part of the process of living and becoming the person God created me to be.
4. Try to focus on the present moment and take the next small step
(PS I bribe myself into doing tasks I hate, by rewarding myself after I do them by doing something I like. That may not be wise, but I do it anyway!)
The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus. Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering. Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.
Loneliness does not come from having no people around you. It comes from not being able to communicate what seems important to you. Carl Jung
I got a Christmas card from a beautifully spiritual Catholic priest friend of Julian’s. We’ve been exchanging Christmas cards and notes from a long time ago when Julian designed a beautiful contemporary Church for his congregation . He is an amazing man, who is even asked to fill in for Protestant preachers and works with many other religions to help the poor. I look forward to the card each year because his hand written notes usually have insights that speak to me. This year his card had the words “I want to see like Jesus” across the front over a silhouette of the Baby Jesus in the manger. I started thinking about what Jesus sees and got overwhelmed. He sees the children in war zones, the hungry ones, the abused ones, the lost to drugs ones, Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting Muslims, even good people throwing out the baby Jesus with the dirty bath water of bad Christian leaders, some of whom cause their own children to close their minds to the Good News. I don’t think I could bear seeing like Jesus. To see all those he loves on both sides of wars and economics and politics and religious fanaticism and all the other suffering in so many lives would simply destroy me. I can barely survive the suffering I see in my own family and other people I know and care about. When I love someone who is actually causing their own and others’ suffering, it is almost worse, because I don’t know how to help them get free of their destructive responses to the pain of life. Ultimately, we are helpless to save even those we love enough to share their pain. How heartbreaking it must be to see like Jesus. But how amazing to realize that he saw it all, but still chose to give his life for every single one of us, expressing his love in his last few words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”