#36 Living into a New Consciousness
Pain, Suffering & Unconditional Love
Pain is breaking through the shell
that encloses our understanding.
It is in the face of tragedy and suffering that our relationship with Jesus and with Infinite Love is revealed. Jesus, human as we are, experienced pain and intense suffering, yet adhered in trust to the One Love that is unconditional. It is this trust-filled adherence to Love’s undying Presence that gives us hope and meaning when our experience of vulnerability becomes intolerable. In this place of consuming pain, we are immersed in Love, through Jesus, whose call to serve transcends time and space.
Going into Pain
In Mark’s Gospel we are told that Jesus went up to Jerusalem knowing that he could be handed over, mocked, spat upon, flogged and finally killed. Jesus met the pain before him. Going into pain points us into depth. It means:
~ gently allowing the pain to be there–the wound, the gap, the homesickness, the yearning, the deep loss–without guilt or the need to control;
~ walking around in it, softly, and giving it permission to be felt, welcoming its “tenderizing,” its gentling presence and the gift of tears that it brings;
~ being in the silence of one’s inner being and encountering one’s heart;
~ seeing what others have gone through, seeing it from inside out, and connecting with our own long-neglected empathy.
= 2 =
Pain hurts, but pain, when accepted, when gone into, is nevertheless a blessing. One might say that pain simply is ~ that it is neither good nor bad in itself, but simply is part of living life to the fullest.
Life and vibrant holiness are pervaded with pain. Pain is of the holy and, if embraced, it sanctifies. Our own limitations, painful without a doubt, carry within them the cut-off points for alleviating the pain of others. As the mystery of pain unfolds in our lives and in the lives of those we cherish, we often find ourselves suffering with the other whom we cannot help, from whom we cannot take away the agony, the dread, the discouragement, the sorrow.
At such times, it may help if we can accept that pain is holy, is of the whole and makes whole. In our poverty we need to trust that suffering leads the other, in ways we do not know, toward inwardness and wholeness. By surrendering ourselves to the pain of our incapacity to alleviate suffering, we learn to let pain be. We say “yes” to its salvific, creative dimension, releasing ourselves to the breakthrough of God in our lives.
Energy from Us Returns to Us
We know today that whatever energy exudes from us returns to us. Anger begets anger and therefore increases. Revenge begets revenge. Hatred fosters hatred. Violence only increases to more violence and ultimately permeates the environment with negativity. Surrounding pain with negativity, therefore, only increases negativity.
Perhaps the most difficult lesson about pain is the discovery that it does not go away, nor is it transformed, when we lash out at those we see as responsible for it, those who inflicted it on us, or even those who did nothing to prevent it.
= 3 =
Martin Luther King saw unearned suffering as redemptive. Jesus calls “blessed” those who sorrow. Is there perhaps a mysterious dynamic between the sorrow and the comforting ~ a pain entered in upon, held within oneself, acknowledged, embraced without fear ~ that makes for the blessedness?
The Hebrew word for discipline
seeks to show or reveal the suffering
within oneself and deal with it
constructively, deepening maturity
in one’s life.
Most importantly, discipline means
to learn wisdom from one’s suffering.
Adapted from Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP
Anticipatory, Unfinished State
of the Universe
It is important to ask just what theological consequences would follow if the universe, as evolution implies, has emerged only gradually from a state of relative simplicity, a universe that still remains unfinished. What need would there be for expiation or scapegoating if nothing significant had been lost in the beginning? And what if becoming whole, for which humans ache, were envisaged as a future state of new creation instead of a lost past?
Would not an evolutionary view of life logically call for a theology that situates life’s suffering and sacrifice once and for all within the horizon of expectation-eschatology, where the whole emergent universe is understood as anticipating a healing, renewing future?
= 4 =
By ruling out any past epoch of created perfection, our religious aspirations may henceforth be turned more decisively from regret and remorse and more decidedly in the direction of hope. Suffering, then, is best thought of in terms of an unfinished, anticipatory universe in which the possibility of something completely new ~ an eschatological plenitude ~ awaits it up ahead.
Robert J. Wicks wrote that Community represents a psychological and spiritual stalwart in times of challenge and suffering. It helps us to appreciate the Cameroonian saying:
If you wish to go fast, go alone.
If you wish to go far, go together.
Suffering becomes a Service
Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, brings out that when we serve another with love, we do not serve with our strength; we serve with ourselves, and we draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.
The meaningful poem, “To the Edge” by Elizabeth Terbrock, M.M., reflects this depth of love:
Where does it hurt?
Find that spot and go there.
Courage will meet you
at the edge of the abyss
where the wound you thought
would obliterate you
a fathomless depth of Love!
= 5 =
God continually blesses us and invites us to participate in a process of personal and communal and cosmic transformation. We learn through the suffering of others that a salient part of being human is to try to see that no one suffers alone, that no pain goes unnoticed and that no pain is without meaning.
Our Call to Transformation
We need to reach a place in our lives of humility, honesty, transparency, and truth. We are invited and called to take up Jesus’ maxim, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” as a way back to balance and harmony.
My humanity is bound up in yours,
for we can only be human together!
Restoring a balance between ourselves and God, and with others and all creation is the way to turn back and allow the human, as well as plants and animals and all the creative energies of the earth, to flourish anew.
Love alone is capable of uniting living beings
in such a way as to complete and fulfill them,
for it alone takes them and joins them
by what is deepest in themselves.
Teilhard de Chardin, SJ,
The Human Phenomenon
= 6 =
Elizabeth Johnson writes:
Jesus did not come to die but to live and help others live in the joy of the reign of God….Jesus’ suffering, freely borne in love out of fidelity to his ministry and his God, is precisely the way our gracious God has chosen to enter into solidarity with all those who suffer and are lost in this violent world, thereby opening up the promise of new life out of the very center of death.
Divine participation in suffering brings about new life beyond misery, guilt and death. It is in some sense a very motherly work! It is Faith lived in the joy of life and compassionate action with those who are suffering, rather than in prizing pain in the name of God.
Unconditional love is the foundation
of every mysticism of suffering.
Karl Rahner, S.J.