Friday, July 21, 2006

Offering it up

If we complained about any kind of hardship, real or perceived, when I was growing up, we were advised to "offer it up," the idea being that by joining ourselves with the suffering of Jesus, we could turn our adversities into a way of doing something good for the world. It strikes me now as charmingly presumptuous to imagine that a scraped knee or the deprivation of a candy war constituted actual suffering, though I suppose for one raised in comfortable circumstances in a time of peace, it might have represented a child-sized portion.

Offering it up hasn't played much part in my adult spiritual life, in part because I tend to prefer a more thoughtful approach (or, at times, to be as thought-less as I can manage) but also perhaps because I've been fortunate to live a life marked by ordinary disappointments but with very little in the way of real suffering. That privileged kid grew up to be a privileged adult, in other words. These past two weeks, however, have brought an unwelcome opportunity to revisit the practice of redemptive suffering, as I experienced pain at a level of intensity unequaled in my entire previous life and, I most fervently hope, in what's left to come. I'm not looking for sympathy and I won't dwell on the details; suffice it to say my condition was not life-threatening and that I am now well on the mend, sill pondering the experience.

Its effect was to narrow my openness to the world beyond myself to a pinhole. Gone was that expansive feeling of God-present that I have come to rely on; in its place, I retreated into some place deep inside myself and shut out everything and everyone else. It became necessary to focus my entire being on the pain in order to endure it; words were a distraction, conversation impossible. Though at several points I turned over thoughts about consciously embracing the sufferings of Jesus, that was really a very abstract concept that was mostly far beyond my capacity to realize.

Eventually, I found, you reach a point where you feel you have nothing left; you may trust in God's loving presence but have no real sense of it, and only the barest sense of yourself, for that matter. When we get to that place where we have no words for prayer and can find nothing left of ourselves to offer, maybe that is where we pray the truest prayer of all.


At 8:22 AM, Blogger Jannine Maire said...

Glad you are getting well. I've alwasy felt that the truest prayers are "Help" and "Thank you."

I was raised Protestant, spent several years in the Catholic Church as an adult, and am now Episcopalian. Somehow there has to be a way to reconcile it all.


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