Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Suffering – Transfiguration

In writing about suffering, I’ve followed an outline of sorts and am at the issue of suffering and God, the place to which all meditations on suffering must lead us. Part 1 dealt with risk. Part 2 will explore the issue of community. Part 3 will be an exploration of creatures and creation – which is what we are and is also the crux of the problem of suffering. But of course, this isn’t under my direction or control: as hard as it is for me to admit it publicly, I am God’s to do with as he pleases and there is absolutely nothing I want more, nothing better for which I can hope. And, every so often, I discover an unexpected addition to my planned outline. Today is such an occasion (though I do think it is integral to the problem of suffering and God).

This past week, I had planned to see my spiritual director, a Dominican priest, for confession on Thursday. At almost the last minute, he had a conflict and asked to reschedule to Friday. On Friday, I arrived at the appointed time, rang the bell to the parish house and waited. No answer. I rang again and again. Still no answer. I looked into the church, saw the pastor praying and decided not to disturb him.

Now I don’t own a cell phone though I flirt with the idea of getting one. But since I need a great deal of time alone to think and listen and, since cell phones seem to make their owners always available, I have avoided them like the plague. I often walk until I’ve come to the end of all my distractions and feats of ledger domain and then, in the stillness, when I’m not yet physically exhausted but certainly tired of filling time, I discover I can’t stave off God’s voice any longer. It is then that I realize, once I attend to what he is saying, that I have been very, very silly for trying to avoid him. Cell phones seem to interrupt that process of being alone with myself until I am willing to be alone with God. And for me, that would not be good. (Though if the time comes when a cell phone is important in my life, I will get one – I’m actually very technologically savvy.) All of which is to explain why, when my spiritual director didn’t come to the door and wasn’t in the church, I went home before I called him. After we exchanged apologies, we scheduled a meeting for this morning before mass. That seems to be exactly what God wanted.

Confession was all about my pride, about the things I’ve held onto and not given to God. I know better and would counsel anyone to give God everything – feelings, attitudes, convictions – no matter how ugly they are. When we were children we brought our parents gifts – flowers. Often they were weeds. But if our parents were at all loving, they accepted our gifts with joy, even put them in water and gave them a central place. (A friend of mine used to bring her mother worms and her mother graciously thanked her and then put them in a jar on the windowsill. My friend didn’t realize until we discussed it, long after her mother’s death, that those worms were always gone the next morning.) We should do know less with, expect no less from our Father.

My spiritual director spoke to me about the Transfiguration and the willingness to love God open-endedly, without any restrictions – to really be his and let everything I am and have be his to do with as he pleases. After confession, while performing my penance in the church, I realized there was something else I had not given to God – the immense pain of losing my family. It became clear to me that I have held onto that pain, tended it, cared for it like a flower in my garden, saw it as a responsibility that only I could fulfill. But if I am truly to be his, then my pain must be his as well: I cannot keep this flower for myself. That hurts. It’s excruciating. My self definition has been intertwined with this particular loss: it has been central to who I am. Giving it to God is self-abandonment, excruciating self-denial. But I love him. What else could I do but give him this thing that is so precious to me?

My prayer that God would take my pain and do with it as he pleases came out with sobbing and tears and that was not surprising – at least not to me. But then there was a voice: “Are you crying? Oh no! I know you’re not crying!” Then there were arms around me, hugging me, holding me, not letting me go and that same voice asking me if I was okay, if the problem was that I needed to go back into hospital – asking what was wrong. Though my initial reaction was to tell her to leave me alone, finally, I hugged back and told her that I would explain later. What else could I do when my friend saw my heaving shoulders and tears and came to be with me?

When I offer something to God – particularly something painful, I always know that his response could be to have me continue in pain – and that’s really what I expect – that he will give me the strength to continue hurting. But sometimes, maybe even often, his response surprises me – and that’s even more painful. I was willing to carry the pain of loss through the rest of my life, willing to relinquish my request that it be healed. It didn’t occur to me that he might ask me to hurt while someone who will never be my mother, who can never be her or even much like her – someone who can never make me forget Marmar – hugs me and will not let me go. In time I will probably understand better but for now, a friend’s hug responds to my need in a way I could not have foreseen so that it’s no longer just my suffering – no longer a flower I get to nurture and keep to myself. Somehow, my suffering now belongs to the body of Christ. It ain’t just mine anymore.