Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd Oct. 28, 2018
The last couple of weeks have been very full. So many people have worked so very hard for the Bazaar, while we have continued the rest of our programs full tilt. We have heard from a visitor how much she appreciated our camaraderie as we have worked together. There will always be hiccups when we put on an event as large as this, but how we handle these hiccups makes a world of difference. So thank you, both newcomers & old timers, for doing your bit to make a wee difference in this world.
We will occasionally receive a visitor who will not be as appreciative. Many of us here experienced the anger of a visitor last Sunday. Some of us met with him later that afternoon and heard a back story that helped us understand his situation. It didn’t justify his behaviour, but it did help us release our anger and fear as we attended to his.
I have learned time and time again that if we’re able to look at difficult situations with an eye of compassion, as hard as that is, we have a much better chance of finding healing and at least some resolution for everyone. It is in the midst of challenges and even suffering where we might learn the most and find our faith deepened.
The book of Job is about a faith-filled man who ran into one crisis after another, none of which were within his control. His servants were murdered, his animals stolen, his children killed in an accident. He was overcome with a serious illness. His friends were convinced that Job had done something terrible to deserve this devastation, but Job insisted on his innocence. He proved that bad things do happen to good people and that God was not necessarily punishing him. But he himself cried out to God, asking why God did not spare him from such suffering. The underlying assumption of both Job and his friends was that God is the author of all things, both good and bad, and that God alone has the power to spare us. God’s response to such thinking was to challenge Job himself, asking what he really knew about the universe and its forces of cause and effect.
Many of us still hold on to the beliefs of Job and his friends that cause us to question why? why me? or with survivor guilt, why not me? These questions imply that God causes suffering and that God chooses to spare some, but not all. I do not believe that God is the author of suffering. Nor do I believe that God chooses to relieve some suffering while ignoring the suffering of others. Such a God would be a tyrant and I believe in a God of love.
Instead, I believe that God chose to share power with created beings, such as you and I, and gave us the choice to embrace God’s purposes from our own free will. In this sense, God does not intervene in the course of nature or history by attaching us to puppeteer strings. But this does not mean that God is aloof, uninterested and uninvolved in our daily lives. To the contrary, God is intimately connected to what is happening, sending continuous impulses through the indwelling Spirit to nudge us towards love. In this sense, God intervenes every second of every day—not to change events, but to change hearts. God not only sends love, but also receives love as well as suffering, joy as well as pain, beauty as well as horror. God receives it all through a compassionate embrace.
When I’ve gone through a challenging week, I take courage from those around me who are going through so much more. The loss of a life-long companion pales my challenges into a mere inconveniences. I look for inspiration to those who have experienced unbelievable suffering, yet have found a deeper faith.
Sixteen years ago, the diary of a young, Jewish woman who was killed in Auschwitz, was translated into English. Most of us haven’t yet heard of her. Her name was Etty Hillesum and she assisted others who had been arrested and were awaiting deportation to one of the concentration camps. She was offered a place to hide, but she refused, insisting that she was called to help others. One month later she and her family were arrested and they were all sent to the camps. None survived. But what did survive were Etty’s diaries and letters, which she had given to friends for safekeeping. A farmer found her last writing on a postcard, which she had written on the train to Auschwitz and thrown out the window. It read, “Opening the Bible at random I find this: ‘The Lord is my high tower’. I am sitting on my rucksack in the middle of a full freight car. Father, Mother, and Mischa are a few cars away. In the end, the departure came without warning…We left the camp singing…Thank you for all your kindness and care.” I can only image the thoughts and feelings of the farmer, as he read those words of gratitude from a prisoner on her way to the concentration camps.
Etty was determined to preserve her spirit of beauty and love even as her body was attacked. In her diary, she wrote, “Those two months behind barbed wire have been the two richest and most intense months of my life, in which my highest values were so deeply confirmed.” Addressing God, she wrote, “Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.” Etty took comfort in God’s presence, but not in a hope that God would change the horrible circumstance. Etty knew of God’s comforting strength and gave it to others even as she lived through hell. She was able to transform her suffering into sacred wounds.
Richard Rohr writes that if we can see our wounds as Jesus saw his wounds or as Etty saw hers, “they would become sacred, rather than scars to deny, disguise, or project onto others…If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter…If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbours, our co-workers, and invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.”
How do we transform our suffering into sacred wounds? The first step is to acknowledge any part we may have played to cause it. When I was in Bingen, Germany last month, I noticed gold plaques, called stumbling stones, installed on the sidewalks outside of buildings with the names of Jews written on them. These marked the places where Jews were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night in 1942. Their birth dates and death dates, if known, were included, along with the names of the concentration camps to which they were sent.
This was sobering as I studied Hildegard with her reference to the Living Light while looking at this art installation of dark remembrance. Hildegard wrote that we need two wings to fly. One wing is the knowledge of good while the other is the knowledge of evil. If we lack either one, we will be like an eagle with only one wing and will fall to the ground instead of rising to the heights. These writings of Hildegard inspired Karl Jung, who said that we need to acknowledge our shadow sides and our brokenness, individually and collectively, if we are to be healed.
The second step is to accept the suffering—even if we suffer due to no fault of our own. Our natural inclination is to deny, ignore, hide from our own pain, but we can’t outrun it. It is like our shadow. As we walk towards the Living Light, our shadow will catch up to us. If we can embrace it as it comes towards us, its pain can be transformed into compassionate wisdom. We can then join Etty in being a wounded healer for others, even in their suffering.
Sometimes it is through suffering that we are able to touch the deepest part of ourselves where God resides. Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, reminds us that suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.
Jeff Straker is a talented singer-songwriter/pianist, who is often asked to perform with the Saskatoon and Regina Symphony Orchestras. He performed at a house concert Nancy & I hosted last week as a fundraiser for our Amnesty International letter writing group and gave me permission to tell this story. Four years ago, his house was broken into and his laptop, along with 2 backup hard drives was stolen. It contained 16 months of work on songs and material that was now permanently lost. It was very difficult for him as he struggled, for a brief time, with depression over this loss. It was hard for him to see any light in this situation. But gradually, he was able to transform his grief. He wrote to me, “somehow through some twist of how the inner machinery works, I…feel I’m better for it. Gifts come in the strangest of packages sometimes, don’t they? I think there are little beacons everywhere if you just ‘let’ them shine.”
As we walk towards the Living Light, may we link our shadow side with our suffering, and bring both into the transforming power of Christ’s wounded love.