Thursday, May 14, 2009

Entrance to Suffering

Peggy (the Abbess's) commented yesterday on complaint-free living and the Western disinclination to enter into suffering. She has me pondering Thomas Kelly's "A Testament of Devotion."

I am hundreds of miles from my home bookshelf, and hence more than usual flying from memory, but in one chapter of "A Testament of Devotion," Kelly, a mid-twentieth century Quaker, talks about "fruits of the Spirit" we gain when we center in the Divine Spirit and respond to the nudges of the "Hound from Heaven" (Jesus/the Holy Spirit).

Kelly talks about --now I'm challenged to remember--but I believe it is peace and joy as two fruits of the spirit. (It may be peace and love or love and joy). The third fruit he discusses is "entrance into suffering."

The first two made perfect sense to me. Who doesn't want peace and joy or peace and love? But entrance into suffering? How is that a fruit? Isn't that exactly what we want to avoid?

But as I thought about this, I realized that Kelly is exactly right. As we grow into spiritual maturity, we begin to shed the carmal self and are able to look at suffering more directly. We no longer always avert out gaze. We are no longer like the New York ad rep I worked with once who always took a taxi places because she couldn't bear the ugliness she saw riding the subway--the man with no legs begging for money outside the subway station, the people with mental illness shouting things in the train or talking to themselves, the homeless people. Now, at least sometimes, we walk straight up to these people and enter into their experience because we are no longer so filled with fear. Love, has in part, removed our fear. In my case, I was able to go into a prison and participate in worship sharing with prisoners. Before my spiritual awakening, I would have been too afraid of going, and it would have seemed "too depressing." Then, I mostly tried to ignore the existence of prisons or rationalize the prisoners as people completely "other," completely unlike me.

Yet when I entered the prison, I was given a great gift or fruit: learning that the prisoners were in fact just like me and that often they had more to offer me than I had to offer them. I always came away feeling I had gotten more than I gave. I didn't do the ministry for that reason, as I never expected to have that experience. So it was wholly a gift. But I am now more aware that the more we can embrace or sit with suffering, the more wholly human we become. Most importantly--as I'm convinced this experience was not meant to be primarily about individual "good feeling"--my views of prison changed, I sought out more information on prisons and became more sensitized and supportive of the need for prison reform.

How does this relate to a complaint-free world? Have you entered into suffering?

2 comments:

AbiSomeone said...

hehehe ... what would you do without me to stir the pot? :^)

This particular purple pot is the one that is gently steeping on the back burner of my life ... and so I am grateful to you for partaking in its nourishment.

I would go a bit farther and bring cHesed into it (let me talk long enough and cHesed always creep in): The point of loving God and loving others is about making proper responses to your situation. This is about chosing to live in Kairos time where God is always working to make good come out of the chaos -- and looking for ways to include us in this good work.

Faithful covenant-keeping (cHesed) is all about being aware of who we are and whose we are and who everyone around us is and who is "especially fond of that one" (to quote Papa from The Shack) ... and in the perceiving, we respond in the Spirit's strength and the fruit nourishes our souls and the souls of others, as well.

This is one of the gifts that Corrie ten Boom gave to the world: a view into suffering that was redeemed. And why it continues to be such a blessing to me that I was privileged to be her secretary 35 years ago!

Shalom to you, dear sister. Thank you for your encouragement.

p.s. I just have to say: the word verification I had to type in to post this comment was "slayabi" ... and I hope no one takes that seriously. LOL!

Alice said...

Thanks for your writing. Great to read the above comment as well, more thanks.

Yes! I think I am become less afraid. All that "be not afraid" of the Gospels ... maybe I am starting to get it. With my feet on solid ground, living in the Risen Christ here with us, I am not afraid and it's easier to face the reality of the suffering world. Makes me think of Brian Drayton's Pendle Hill Pamphlet "Getting rooted - living in the Cross" which I've recently read.