The Alchemy of Suffering

See : Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 24 (year B) October 21, 2012
“Cup of Suffering”
http://www.edgeofenclosure.org

Meal at Bethany, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor’s Bible Historiale, 1372

To be engaged with the world is to suffer. Even after the painful trauma of birth is over, a little child suffers the pains of the digestive system learning to manage itself, first teeth breaking slowly through the gums, the panic as mother incomprehensibly leaves the room even for a moment. In the best of economic and social circumstances, there is always sickness, tragedy, death, unexplainable twists of fate, love-sickness, home-sickness, hurtful disagreements, mental illness, the death of loved ones. Add poverty, war, natural disasters, political oppression, and brutality and you have life. How can I bear this suffering?

Christians, who ritually embrace the suffering of Christ and the world in worship can nevertheless devolve into Why did God do this to me? Why isn’t God answering my prayers? during a bout of suffering as if God is a personal necromancer and prayer a magical incantation.

By concentrating on the exclusively personal in this way I can avoid the questions pertaining to both theodicy and personal responsibility as a human being. If I wallow in Why did God do this to me? I don’t have to worry about someone half way around the world, or even down the street, for that matter.

But the moment my suffering meets your suffering, the moment our eyes meet, an alchemical change takes place. I am in you and you are in me. Suffering makes us one. Learning to suffer with you, I learn empathy for others I don’t know. Suffering opens my soul to love.

And when my suffering meets God’s suffering, we become one in that suffering, incarnate in the world, bearing this suffering for I-Know-Not-What. Christian practice helps me to trust living in the incomprehensible vortex of the cross. My suffering, your suffering, God’s suffering, bringing forth new life. How can I bear this joy?

-Suzanne

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6 Responses to “The Alchemy of Suffering”

  1. wendy faber yee Says:

    sense of spiritual us ..comforting, zestful,..energizing…visceral, soulful…a reminder of joining, joined, being. thx. xoxo happy monj. wfy

  2. Tony Burkart Says:

    I can’t help but think of Flannery O’Conner’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”. Amidst horrendous circumstances, eyes meet, soul’s melt for a fraction of temporal time…. not a Hollywood ending but something profoundly changes in the reader if personal vulnerability fuses with Grace.

    Thanks again for the vulnerable offering of sharing your soul’s stirrings.

    Tony

  3. Diane Says:

    From Suzanne Guthries’ blog [ https://ammaguthrie.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/soul-devouring-poverty/%5D I quote:
    “Suffering opens my soul to love. And when my suffering meets God’s suffering, we become one in that suffering, incarnate in the world, bearing this suffering for I-Know-Not-What. Christian practice helps me to trust living in the incomprehensible vortex of the cross. My suffering, your suffering, God’s suffering, bringing forth new life. How can I bear this joy?” -Suzanne https://ammaguthrie.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/the-alchemy-of-suffering/#comments
    Tony Burkart replies: October 16, 2012 at 2:23 am | Reply
    “I can’t help but think of Flannery O’Conner’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” Amidst horrendous circumstances, eyes meet, soul’s melt for a fraction of temporal time, not a Hollywood ending but something profoundly changes in the reader if personal vulnerability fuses with Grace.”

    I’m wondering just how does one’s vulnerability fuse with Grace? It sounds delightful and encouraging salted with one’s skin kind of meaning, okay, but how does one understand what that means? Is it in stories like the one Tony refers to in his reply that are told to illustrate the experience. Or can this only be understood by one recognizing or identifying with what seems to be said in this description of sharing suffering? I wonder if this can be communicated to one who has not experienced this sharing of suffering?

    • ammaguthrie Says:

      Great questions, Diane. How? The real horror of suffering, especially physical pain, is how isolating it is. Chronic pain is so insidious because all that’s left in your life is the pain. It’s evil in that way. It un-connects you to everything and everyone – the opposite of spiritual practice. But I guess what I was trying to say in too hurried and poetic a way, is that SOMETIMES suffering itself connects rather than isolates. I remember just before I was divorced, I had an uncanny, even sort of psychic awareness of other women who were abused. Some I knew were abused, because I’d heard their stories, and some – well, the hair literally stood up on my arms near them. I was not alone. And in fact, some of those women helped me to get out. Maybe it’s because they helped me without asking any questions, that I connected so deeply. They connected with me.
      How does vulnerability fuse with grace? I never think about the how, but I marvel that it does. But, since you’ve made me think about it (THANK YOU !) my response would be that spiritual disciplines of habit – like working on awareness of poverty of spirit for example, knowing your vulnerabilities, helps, and then there’s that intellectual shift where you realize God – whatever God is – is … vulnerable. That not only I suffer, but God suffers in me. I can connect to God this way. And then, when I see injustice, etc. I can connect to God’s suffering again and again, not just through my own life, but in a suffering world. But I bet you’re still asking ‘how’ …
      Anyway, I wish you were hovering over the chapter I’m working on now, pinning me down like this. Maybe I’ll imagine you over my shoulder… Thanks again, Diane!

      • Diane Says:

        Thank you Suzanne. I really didn’t expect an answer especially one so tender; I do appreciate it so very much. My time visiting with people who are extremely marginal in health, age, and in acceptance by our communities makes me search for more understanding. I get it that much of that is by the “heart” and not by the “mind.” Thank you again. I hope you will accept the fact that I shared these comments on my blogs. Actually no one reads them …I had one blog a year ago or so about Hawks visiting and that one article gets all- litterally all- my traffic of readers. So not to worry. Thank you so much again. It’s comforting to know you are out there living Grace!

  4. joan Says:

    I am just home from a trip to Italy and sifting through my emails I have come to Suzanne’s blog. Italy was beautiful, inspiring, exhausting. In Rome near the end of a very long day filling up with the wonders created by people, too full, too full, too tired, feet screaming from walking all day on hard, uneven stones…feeling so exhausted I could cry–and the reason I am writing is this: suddenly I saw that all the other people there were just as tired and overwhelmed as I was! It was an amazing insight, not just an intellectual observation, but a true knowing, and with that all the tiredness just drifted away. Somehow sharing in the lives of others, feeling a communion with them and realising we all feel the same I was deeply blessed and uplifted. So maybe asking how is our mind being in the way (and I am usually right there!) but actually seeing that we all truly feel the same things opens the heart to grace. And Thanks be to God!

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