04 July 2005

Good thoughts on suffering

... from Brother Sebastian, here.
So what type of suffering is profitable, then? I think that metanoia requires suffering. Again, not that pain itself is somehow profitable. Instead, I believe that the change of the nous requires some neurological changes that produce pain from the organismic level. As a therapist, I believe that we adapt to the crazy patchwork-quilt of conditional love that we encounter through our life, that we adapt in our bodies, including neurologically. Change at the organism level requires letting go of those adaptions that have shaped my internal tensions and neurological filters that "make" me "feel" safe. Thus, change leaves me anxious and hurting as I fear for my own survival: the more radical change, the more severe the pain.

That fear can keep one in a prison of indecision. When there is no sense of trust that others care for us, our close relationships become ordered around pleasing the other person, without reference to ourselves at all. We don't love ourselves because the others don't love us; they want only their own way. This is typical of codependency. One forgets oneself, not in the good sense, but in the sense of self-denial or self-annihilation.

Once one accepts God as good - not as easy as one might think, particularly if one's never experienced unconditional love or a good father figure - one is able to back off from control and allow Him to work in one's life. The idea of allowing suffering - being quiet before God, letting Him do what He's gotta do - has always been so helpful to me. But it took a long time before I understood that I needed to let go in order to let Him come in. Until we have a sense of His power and presence and love, letting go is out of the question; we lose all control and open ourselves to unspeakable emotional, and sometimes physical, harm.
I think this is why Jesus had to come to save me. I cannot change enough on my own, regardless of whatever method of "salvation" I choose, because I am too afraid of death.

This echoes what Steve Jobs said (quoted below). And it's true. In our culture today, sex is everywhere, but death is the Great Unmentionable. If I hear one more of those "Forest Lawn" ads - "Celebrate a Life" - I'm gonna ... well, never mind.
...I embrace the Passion and the Cross because they are the only hope I have of escaping the pain that I have taken on in hope of feeling loved. (emphasis added)

Bingo! That was it - that's what I was trying to accomplish all those years.
So I seek those things that increase my "suffering"--the monastic ascetical practices that help sweep the house clean of distraction, for example--so that it becomes more radically like Jesus' suffering.

No surprise that what brought me into the Church originally was an intense desire to join the order of Discalced Carmelites. Their asceticism is not extreme, but it does involve strict silence and absolute poverty. In my current situation, I consciously practice a great deal of both silence and extreme frugality. It's very freeing.
Kinda makes me want to pray for more people "in" purgatory, since the whole concept focuses on purgation of what is "unclean" of me and in me.

I can see why the Protestants reject the concept of purgatory. I do not. I think that it is the counter-weight to "...only by the sweat of your brow will you win your bread until you return to the earth." (Genesis 3:19a) At some point it must be a logical construct, and God is able to abrogate it as He sees fit; but I have thought of Purgatory as a very hopeful place, a place of progress and peace. No matter how good we are when we die, there are bound to be some attachments, some ties to this world which cloud our vision of God and keep us from understanding Him. I see Purgatory as the cleaning of the windows of the soul, so that we can gaze directly into the eyes of the Beautiful One, and know we are home.

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