I do not know what it means to suffer. But if I could imagine what might be among the most difficult kinds of suffering to undergo, it must surely be that sort of pain which the fracturing of our human relations with one another brings. In his inscrutable wisdom, God took the betrayal of David’s son Absalom, which David crystallized in the fortieth psalm (forty-first in the Hebrew), and set it as the type of Christ’s betrayer, joining David’s own human suffering to Christ’s and thereby redeeming David (and us all).
It is the dissolution of those human bonds which tears at the fabric of our souls, our hearts, our minds. As the tearing apart of flesh from flesh, bone from bone, such pain disorients the mind and the heart. Where once the boundaries were clear, the foundations firm, suddenly the vision blurs and the ground becomes as quicksand. Where once no thought was given to self-preservation, indeed, most every thought was handed over to self-giving, at once one finds no bearing, no course by which to navigate alien actions and strange moods, and the backward glance becomes a reflex.
Who can say how this comes about? Whereas on one level the surprise is sudden and wrenching, unlooked for, yet the reaping of such a harvest comes only after length of days and weeks and months, where one thought was entertained, and then another. These became a constant mental state, the culture of a soul, and then the heart, and with it the capacity for choice, changes and becomes something different. The change can be so gradual that the morphing of such a soul goes unnoticed by all, even by the one transformed, until it seems even to such a one that this has been his inner life all along, this is his true self. The other, former self, the one that ran in different, light-filled ways is now the “false self.”
By such degrees, by such distortions, then, are our souls held captive. And some of us will be free of such delusion and its darksome consequences only with great and painful difficulty as God fights for us. More terrible yet, some of us will refuse such freedom.
The frightening reality of this is that this is each of us. Our human condition is such that none of us is exempt from such a darkening of our very selves. The change is so gradual, so seductive, that we never notice it at all. Therefore, such a reality demands of us a constant vigilance and askesis, St. Paul’s “pray without ceasing.”
Such prayer, though, goes far beyond, though it cannot leave behind, the words of the prayer books and the liturgies, the unspoken groanings of the heart. Such prayer becomes grafted to one’s heart and soul, until the prayer is more like a constant way of being than a deliberate action undertaken. Or, it seems to me that it may be something like this. I really do not know. I am so very inconstant in prayer, and must rely on the external and deliberate actions if I am to pray at all.
And only prayer, of any sort, can save us from such soulish devolution. Even more so for those who stand in that psychic plot of ground shared by David. The seduction here is more terrible yet, for the aggrieved are ever dangerously close to self-righteousness and self-justification. It is only with great and unrelenting forcing of the will to enter the pain and the hurt and to remain there, and to remember one’s sins, even and especially as the aggrieved–only so may we have a hope of being delivered from such damning self-justification.
This is the most difficult of all, I suppose. How does one grasp the white-hot iron of such hurt so deliberately? How does one immerse oneself in this excruciating present moment, to allow it to wash over oneself, even at the cost of drowning in it, and to do so freely?
I’m afraid I really cannot say. I do not know. But I suspect that there may only be one way that that is possible, only one motivator quite strong enough for one to forget oneself and one’s wounds, and to stand in the swirling chaos. Love. Love of God, who is there in the center of that tornado and who bids us come and embrace him. And love of our neighbor, love of that one who has broken us. That one whom, against all human sanity and categories, Christ himself reaches forth to draw to himself. For if we embrace Christ, we cannot but embrace the other.
Lord have mercy. I am grasping in the dark here. May the Lord lead me, and us all, into the truth of these things.