Category Archives: Suffering

let us not waste the suffering moment…

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 10.13.26 AM

It’s been a deepening conviction of mine that a genuine personal exposure to suffering would cure much that ails us in religionland. And beyond.

Of course it’s no slam dunk.

Suffering is wasted on some of us.
Suffering just makes some of us mean and meaner.
But when we’re crushed repeatedly by life, we tend to be not nearly so arrogant and prickly. We tend to shut up more, to listen better, to focus more clearly on what matters most. Whenever I encounter someone young or old that leads with their mouths, I endeavor not to judge them. I do. I just figure, “Abba, they just need to suffer a bit more than they have…”

It’s perhaps the greatest deficiency in our Bible school and seminary curriculums. We have courses in homiletics, hermeneutics, church history, theology 101, 201, 301, but how do you teach a course on suffering? Sure we can talk about it, we can even go overseas or across the street to visit it, to see it. But we can still be self-righteous jerks as we step back into our own domain of comfort and familiarity, looking down our priggish noses at those around us who don’t care as much because they haven’t seen what we’ve seen and because they didn’t cross the street or the sea with us.

It’s when we’re the ones laid up, we’re the ones confined, restricted, and bound; when we’re the ones feeling the anguished cry of “My God why have you FORSAKEN me!” emerging from the bowels of our being that we learn something. That we learn to be quiet. That we learn the unforced rhythms of grace. That we learn to respect any and every human being before us. That we learn to be kind to everyone you meet because everyone you meet is facing a battle.

I’m told it was his personal experience of being a prisoner of war that did the deep interior work, the inner plowing of the soul in St. Francis that prepared him to literally strip off the power structures of this world and to practically and effectively spend his life becoming an instrument of God’s peace, even traveling to the dreaded Saracens seeking peace when the rest of Christendom was crusading off to war. And significantly, in the last two years of his life, St. Francis was the first documented case of one who physically and literally bore the wounds of Christ in his body.


Just what might suffering cure in us – if only we not squander the suffering moment?
Just what might it heal in our world?
What diverse cultural and social worlds might be brought together through we who suffer?



Posted by on June 11, 2015 in haverings, Suffering


Tags: , , , , ,

needle the night with stars

I read Night by Elie Wiesel this month.night_by_elie_wiesel__by_kuraicat-d3c0urn

The New York Times calls it
“a slim volume of terrifying power.”
I can’t shake the images. Several portraits are burned onto the retina of my soul – and I really don’t want them removed. Something told me not to read this book – and something told me I had to.

In the morning I began reading the Bible from scratch in The Voice translation. I was intrigued by its style and arrangement, the artistic touches, the imagination in its renderings. As often as I’ve read Genesis 1 over the past forty years, it’s an achievement if a translation can make me smile with delight as I encounter the story again.

One line in particular popped – in a verse that had never popped for me. The traditional (aka rather plain) rendering is: “God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night,
and also stars.”

And also stars.
Almost like a hurried afterthought.

The Voice embellished with a bit of an imaginative twist: “And then he needled the night with stars.”

I sat enraptured for a moment at the thought. I was perched on my patio, but with blue skies above,
so I had to imagine the night with it’s needling stars.

And then I picked up Night and read.
I no longer had to imagine – at least not the night.

One day, as we returned from work, we saw three gallows, three black ravens, erected on the Appelplatz. Roll call. The SS surrounding us, machine guns aimed at us: the usual ritual. Three prisoners in chains – and among them, the little pipel, the sad-eyed angel.

The SS seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows.

This time, the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS took his place.

The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks.

“Long live liberty!” shouted the two men.
But the boy was silent.

“Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.

At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.
Total silence in the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.
“Caps off!” screamed the Lageralteste. His voice quivered. As for the rest of us, we were weeping.
“Cover your heads!”
Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…

And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“Where is he? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”

That night, the soup tasted of corpses.

And I wept.
Books don’t make me weep, usually. Perhaps because much of my reading is theological in nature and there’s a glorious emotional detachment in such abstractions. Which is, I suppose, how theologians could crucify a Christ, perpetuate slavery, or turn their back on a holocaust.

But I wept.
I wept at the conjunction of Night and the needling stars, so absent that long, obscene starless night.

Too much night.
More stars.

Abba, we need more needling stars.


quite appropriately, this is a starry sky in Austria…

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Books, haverings, Suffering


Tags: , , , ,

oh yes, I’ll take two of what she’s having

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 6.02.59 PM

Follow up to my “Silly Human” post.

And this is totally why I tagged my friend Holly when I posted this. Holly frequently addresses me as “comrade,” which is unfortunate. The only comrades I have are those who speak the language of suffering through personal experience. I sorry we both qualify – as she puts it so well – “more than some, less than others.” It not so much that “misery loves company” as “pain forms fellowship.”

I’ve always appreciated the Proverb (14:10):

The person who shuns the bitter moments of friends
will be an outsider at their celebrations.

There is a deep, subterranean connection, you see (well, I see, anyway), between “bitter moments” and “celebrations.” I frequently observe that funerals are a time for tears – both of deep joy and deep sorrow. They are connected. And those who have not known deep loss simply cannot laugh as deeply as those who have. The deeper your sorrow, the heartier the laughter. In fact, I’ve found that when I am laughing deeply at a funny joke, a scene in a comedy, or whatever, I feel grief from previous losses – that haven’t even been on my conscious mind – ready to launch, stacked up right behind my eyes.

But maybe that’s just me.

Or maybe it’s what George MacDonald is talking about. The Son of God suffered unto death, not that we might night suffer, but that our suffering might be like his. “For the joy that was set before him, he endured.” And there’s the ticket: “permeating, marrow-soaking joy” to give our suffering “buoyancy, redemption.”

Yes. Holly’s post was much better than mine.

Divine Bartender, do please serve me up a double of what she’s having…



Posted by on September 26, 2014 in haverings, Suffering


Tags: , , ,

silly human

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 10.37.57 AM

Today’s “pericope” aka “gospel snippet”:
Mark 8.
Familiar text.
Obviously quite the revelation for Peter and company, but for us, a bit old hat. Almost a blah blah moment. “Yep, that was the plan, and nope, they didn’t get it, and yep there’s Peter sticking his foot in his mouth demonstrating just how badly he was missing it.”

And it stopped me dead in my tracks with another aha moment as I sputtered on my own foot.

The conviction has been growing in me of late that we have more here than just the “plan of redemption” by which Jesus does what we cannot do, performing a divine transaction, the payment for our sins that gets us off the hook eternally.


But moving through this story of stories, I’ve been glimpsing more.
What if we have more here than the record of what he did so that we don’t have to;
What if we have here, in Christ, the paradigmatic experience for each of us as “son of man” aka “human being”?
What if instead of getting us off the hook, this actually puts us all on it?
What if instead of making it so we don’t have to suffer, Jesus is showing us how?

“It is necessary (a binding imperative, not a choice, this has to be) the son of man (homo sapiens, human being) many things (fill in your own blanks; take your time) to suffer (passionate experience of pain) and to be rejected (see definition of “suffer”) by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes (all the people most of us spend a lifetime trying to placate and please; notice the “ands” we typically leave out of our translations as redundant and how they create a glorious “piling on” effect) and to be killed (and no, this won’t be quick or painless) and after three days (wait for it) to arise (talk about a key verb!).

Let’s make sure we have this straight.

Our road, the road we must travel:


Welcome to humanity!

And now we all play Peter. We graffiti over the first ¾ of the path with scribbled verses of promises and joy and peace and happiness, skipping right down to the bottom of our imagined divine vending machine into which Jesus has already deposited the three coins of suffering, rejection, and death, to collect our nice little life. Which, sooner or later, will leave us kicking the divine machine, then rebuking it, then, if we hang around long enough, finding ourselves rebuked by it.

Silly human.
Look at your reflection in the glass. Enemy. Insisting it not be so.
How slow to truly savour the Divine!
As I have done, so you must do.
I have given you a ὑπογραμμός (who-poe-gram-mose – 1 Peter 2:21) an underwriting, a model of all the letters of life, A to Z, so you may truly learn to write; an example, a map, a path so that step by often excruciating step you may truly learn to walk.

Thank you, but we’re only interested in the destination. Can’t we just go to there and imagine that you did all the hard stuff of suffering, rejection, and death for us so we don’t have to?

Silly human.



Posted by on September 24, 2014 in haverings, Suffering


Tags: , , ,

faith breathes

On the stairs she sits.
Weary, bleary.
Eyes reddish and puffy.
It’s been a long night – stretching over a year. And more.
The boy.
A violent, eternal coughing spasm
had finally sputtered out into

She could only place her hand on his chest
and pray
“God, let him stop, let him sleep.”
And he did.

Now in morning light she sits.
Coughing had revived and then sputtered out again.

“I don’t ask ‘why’ anymore. I don’t.
I know God is good.
I know God is love.
I know God has all power.
I know there is purpose even in this…but…”

And I told her she had just won a gold star for a perfect set
of Sunday School answers.

The reality is, faith has its own violent,
seemingly eternal,
coughing spasms.
And often sputters out to barely a
wheezing whisper;
no deep lung reservoir on which to draw;

But you’re still breathing.

And so is he.

And lying next to him on his bed,
bathed in sun’s rays
the boy and I breathe together and,
in a glorious moment that seemed to linger like
dust entranced by sunlight,
faith breathes from a deeper place.


each time I’m with Gid, I’d like to think I’m a little more Phin-ish…

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Faith, haverings, Suffering


Tags: , ,

dragged by the hair into his presence

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 4.44.59 PM

It’s been awhile since I picked up Rumi and took a stroll with him through his pages.
And now I remember why.

He tells the truth just a bit too brutally.

“By deferring generosity I am helping him.”
aka “I caused you to hunger then fed you with manna
that I might know what was in your heart.”

And so our need “drags us by the hair into his presence.”

Received a text this morning from a couple I love who have been dragged by the hair into his presence for decades. Well meaning idiots people tell them, “This is the enemy! Pray against the enemy!” This, of course, has never occurred to them. Such glorious words of comfort rank right up there with blood letting for them. I told them “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Yes, that enemy I will ever pray against. God bless and keep you far away from all who suffer.

Satan gets so much credit for what God is doing.
Where did we get this notion that it’s all about escaping pain,
that this is God’s number one goal and plan for my life?
Because if that is his plan, quite frankly he sucks, and his plan sucks.

I would love to trade in the torn-open cry. I would.
I can caw-caw like a crow, truly I can, if that means you would let me go.
But you have stolen me, with no intention of return, I your singing nightingale.

And in my torn-open nightingale-ish cries,
I see what I never would have seen,
feel would I never would have felt;
dimensions and worlds open before my dumbfounded gaze,
my torn-open lips screeching, “Holy, Holy, Holy”
but to your ears it’s my own nightingale song
and so I steal You.

Rumi, I really, really hate you.


Leave a comment

Posted by on September 13, 2014 in haverings, Poetry, Suffering


Tags: , ,


Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 12.44.06 PM

Richard Rohr.

Just started reading his latest offering from which this is adapted –
Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi

Yes, Richard. Just, yes.


Leave a comment

Posted by on August 1, 2014 in Quotations, Suffering


Tags: , , , ,

the Jupiter Syndrome

I have a theory.
It’s not scientific, I suppose, but I have observed the phenomenon.
I call it the “Jupiter syndrome.”

I don’t think I’ve shared it here. If I have it’s time for a repeat.

i hate this place

i hate this place

Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System.
Fifth planet.
Gas giant.
A mass one-thousandth that of the Sun.
Two and a half times the mass of all the other planets
in our Solar System 
No solid surface.
Rapid rotation.

I read an article years ago about how thankful we should be for Jupiter.
Evidently, due to Jupiter’s huge size and its consequent gravitational pull, its presence in our Solar System has saved this planet repeatedly, because Jupiter’s gravity sucks in objects that would obliterate the Earth but that she can and has absorbed through the millennia.

Jupiter takes the hits for us.
The cosmic punching bag.
Over and over.

but it could be worse. it could be uranus.

but it could be worse. it could be uranus.

The Jupiter syndrome?
Some people are just blessed with it.
They take the hits for us.
Calamity is drawn to them.
Repeated impacts
living with no solid surface
dizzied by a rapid rotation that refuses to stop so we can get off
our life a huge, swirling red spot
a storm that seems to have been raging since the 17th Century
at least
while the rest of us watch through social media telescopes
and sigh our prayers
“God help them”
“Thank you that I’m not Jupiter.”

my favorite far side...another version of the swirling red spot

my favorite far side…another version of the swirling red spot

Sometimes it’s a just a Jupiter day,
count your blessings.
Sometimes it’s a Jupiter week, or month, or year.
Sometimes it’s a Jupiter life.

God have mercy.

And he does.

Five, they say, is the number of grace, and Jupiter is the fifth planet.
There is a special grace that flows through most Jupiter folk I know,
flows right off the wispy, wobbly surface of their lives
without them even trying;
so much substance from folks just happy to find their feet.

So be kind to Jupiter folk.
Thank them.
Pray for them.

And pray that you have never have any idea what in God’s name I’m talking about here.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 25, 2014 in haverings, Suffering


Tags: , , ,



I so identify with this.
I mean, this could be a really bad snippet –
keeping quiet in situations when we need to be shouting from rooftops.
But in this ongoing pastoral journey that often makes me wish in spades that I had listened to my dad and tried the whole accounting thing after all (could crunching numbers possibly hurt more than witnessing crunched lives?)
I see things.
I do.
I see pain and elation, beauty and ugliness, despair and hope. And such suffering.
It’s probably at those times most,
each bedside of suffering.
I see so much.
And yet I sense that to say anything – especially to blog or post it out there – would defile it, would hijack the moment, would co-opt the pain as if it were my own.
The seven thunders of suffering speak, but the revelation must be sealed.

Oh yes, this happens a lot.

It’s a tricky business, this knowing the time to speak, to write,
and the time for tacenda.

Good word.




Posted by on July 24, 2014 in Quotations, Suffering


Tags: , , ,

absorbing evil

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 12.40.15 PM ~ Richard Rohr

What a refreshing way to view what was accomplished in Jesus’ suffering.
Not merely an eternal accounting transaction,
but an absorption.
Absorbing evil until it becomes resurrection.
And what an interesting nuance to add to that age-old invitation,
“Come, take up your cross, daily.”

Absorbing evil. Daily. Until it becomes resurrection.

Like John Coffee in The Green Mile.

Okay, maybe we should just stick with accounting.


Leave a comment

Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Quotations, Suffering


Tags: , , , ,