Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

Navigating the Holidays with The Dave Test

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

People take holidays.  Suffering doesn’t.  So, how do we navigate the holidays when our lives have been touched by loss or misfortune?  Based on the questions I raise in The Dave Test…I am reflecting on that challenge in my blog at

This week’s Dave Test question:

 Question two of ten…”Can I give up my broken gods?”

The shape of the journey

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

We talked with dear friends who have a close relative facing the slow, certain deterioration that characterizes ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Quickly the conversation turned to the question of what our prayers can reasonably include and the purposes of God in a moment like this.  It resonated deeply with the news I received today that one of my students died at the end of last month from a rare, aggressive cancer that claimed her life after just 5 or 6 years of active ministry.

If the purpose of life is to secure a relationship with God that makes our lives safe and enjoyable — and if the Christian journey is about getting God to side with us, fix our problems, and run interference for us — then both of these stories are a tragic indictment of God and of the Christian faith.  But, of course, that isn’t the point according to every deep, well-rooted Christian tradition.

The point of the journey is companionship with God and the purposes of God take shape around the spread of God’s reign over the lives and hearts of humankind.  Our well-being — which is firmly circumscribed by our mortality — is a secondary consideration.  That is why Ignatius of Loyola preferred the term “companions of Christ” for the order we know as the Jesuits.  The point of the Christian journey is not to secure God’s help with the lives we want to live.  It is about living lives that serve the purpose of God.  And indicting God for failing to fix our problems is a bit like indicting a general for failing to keep his army out of combat.

Does that mean that God is insensitive to our needs?  No.  But it does put the shape of the journey into perspective.  Occasionally we experience a cure, remission, or a reprieve in this life.  But complete healing is an enterprise that awaits us beyond the boundaries of this life.  And, whatever may happen to us now is something that can only be navigated by giving our lives back to God in the middle of whatever it is that we are experiencing.

Any interpretation of the Gospel that suggests otherwise misunderstands the shape of the journey.

Japan: Lessons learned in Vulnerability

Friday, March 11th, 2011

There are a number of things that I believe about catastrophes of the kind that struck Japan yesterday:

  • God does not cause disasters.
  • God does not use them to punish people.
  • God does not use them to teach us lessons.
  • Disasters like this are not a blessing in disguise.
  • They are not sent or allowed by God as a test of our faith.
  • There is, in fact, no lesson to be learned from the tragedy itself because it is without content.
  • But I do believe that we can learn in the midst of a tragedy like this and we can be changed by it.
  • Not because God uses an experience like this as some kind of sadistic teacher.
  • But because suffering of the kind we have seen today should radicalize our understanding of life.

So what are some of the spiritual lessons to be learned from making ourselves vulnerable to the suffering of others at a time like this (knowing that practically speaking our ability to lend first hand aid and comfort may be severely limited or, at best, indirect — through the aid that our nation offers another or the work of recovery that many agencies might offer in the months and years ahead)?

First, we can allow an event like this to challenge and change the way in which we order our priorities.   We can stop majoring on the minor and minoring on the major.  This morning as I drove to the airport I tuned into NPR and its continued coverage of NPR.  The incongruity of it was jarring.  Yes, I understand that there was other news; life goes on; and we can’t endlessly live in crisis-mode — but this morning of all mornings was the time to focus our attention on the needs of another nation tragically struck by disaster.  If this had been an earthquake off the coast of Washington, Oregon, or California there would have been little bandwidth for anything else.  There were issues of greater moment this morning.

Second: We can allow an event like this to reorder our relationships with others — honoring the claims that our common humanity makes upon us all.  Our differences in culture, history, language, politics, religion, language — the human condition itself — will always draw us into debates and conflict.  But an event of this kind should lead us to affirm our underlying responsibility to care for one another.

Third: If we are willing, we can allow a tragedy of this kind to nurture deeper humility in each one of us.  Reminders of our mortality are never welcome and part of the reason that we cover the suffering of others with quick, cursory attention has nothing to do with brain chemistry.  It has to do with our refusal to own our own mortality reflected back to us in the suffering of others.  We can run from that realization or we can allow it to teach us a new way of living in the world — one marked by compassion, tenderness, attentive care, and vulnerability.

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.  Amen.”