Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘suffering’


Genesis 43The Second Journey

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Bacchiacca: Joseph receives his brothers

Just when we think we have reached a plateau in our journey where we might walk along the flatland rather than clamber up and skitter down the mountain sides . . . we find that we have to go back to repeat a leg of our passage.  Just when we have begun to relax at the oasis where we have filled our water sacks and rested in the shade from the heat of the day . . . we are told that we must move on.  Just when we are beginning to become comfortable in the little fortress where we are hiding from our foes . . . we hear the voice that calls us to make a second journey.

Today we find ourselves in the Joseph story at the point where the brothers have returned home to Jacob to tell him that they must go back to Egypt . . . and this time they must take the favored son Benjamin with them.  Just when Jacob thought his problem of famine had been resolved . . . he is told that he must relinquish the last person who brings him comfort.  Despite his age and the litany of difficulties he has undergone, Jacob must trust God and allow himself to suffer again.  The brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery know that they must make a return trip to Egypt.  Little do they know that well-hidden secrets are about to be revealed, questions will be asked and answered, truths will be spoken.  They plan to go to Egypt to purchase food for their families.  They do not plan to encounter the brother they have delivered to slavery and death.  They do not know they are about to make a further journey.  We do not hear from Benjamin, the young boy whose full brother wields power second only to Pharaoh, but we can imagine that he feels both anxiety and excitement.  Everyone in this story will suffer.  Everyone in this story will be rewarded beyond their wildest imaginings.

I am reading a book by Richard Rohr which a friend gave to me.  In FALLING UPWARD, Rohr posits that in life each of us is given the gift of a second or further journey. “[I]n my opinion, this first-half of life task is no more than finding the starting gate.  It is merely the warm-up act, not the full journey.  It is the raft but not the shore . . . There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life.  The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.  The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean that we do it well.  The second task, I am told, is more encountered than sought; few arrive at it with much preplanning, purpose, or passion”.   (Rohr viii and xiii)

Rohr cites W. H. Auden:  We would rather be ruined than changed.  We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.  (Rohr 65)  And on page 73 we find this from Matthew 16:25-26: Anyone who wants to save his life must lose it.  Anyone who loses her life will find it.  What gain is there if you win the whole world and lose your very self?  What can you offer in exchange for your one life?”

Jacob believed that his sons were going to Egypt to purchase food that would save the family.  He did not know that his lost son Joseph would be their savior.  Joseph’s brothers thought they were purchasing food to save their lives . . . they did not know that they would also redeem their souls.

Just when we believe that we have convinced everyone of the reality of our illusions . . . we are given the opportunity to leave our comfort zone and enter the second half of our lives.  We are blessed with the gift of seeing clearly that we are created to love honestly and suffer well.  We are created to take the second journey of our lives . . . the journey that promises far more than suffering . . . the further journey that brings us more reward than we can ever imagine.


Rohr, Richard. FALLING UPWARD: A SPIRITUALITY FOR THE TWO HALVES OF LIFE. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.

The painting above is housed at the UK National Gallery.  To see more detail, click on the image and follow the link.  A spy glass on the museum site will allow you to see detail by zeroing in.   You will also find a link to other scenes from the life of Joseph which may interest you. 

A re-post from August 16, 2011.

Read Full Post »


LamentationsSurviving Ruin

Friday, August 31, 2018

When we reflect on national, local and international news reports, we might believe that our world is falling apart. When we do, we might want to revisit this post from July 17, 2011. And for more reflections on the books of the Bible, visit the Book of Our Life page on this blog.

“The sixth century B.C. was an age of crisis, a turning point in the history of Israel.  With the destruction of the temple and the interruption of its ritual, the exile of the leaders and loss of national sovereignty, an era came to an end.  Not long after the fall of Jerusalem (587) an eyewitness of the national humiliation of Zion, submission to merited chastisement, and strong faith in the constancy of Yahweh’s love and power to restore.  The union of poignant grief and unquenchable hope reflects the constant prophetic vision of the weakness of man and the strength of God’s love; it also shows how Israel’s faith in Yahweh could survive the shattering experience of national ruin”.  (Senior 1017)

We might not want to reflect on a time of crisis in our personal lives when all we knew had been destroyed or lost, when a time of happiness and prosperity ended.  We may want to avoid thinking about any humiliation or chastisement we have experienced.  The memories of our personal shattering may be too difficult to handle, too painful to live with.  The Book of Lamentations written by Baruch, the prophet Jeremiah’s secretary, is a small one and may be easily overlooked; yet it holds so much that is vital to living happily.  In Lamentations we find the important lesson that while we do not want to center our lives on suffering, neither do we want to circumvent its message.  Focusing a life on the avoidance of pain only leads to more obstacles, more grief, more distress and, eventually, even more pain.  Learning how to pass through pain patiently, placing our trust in God as we navigate the grief also allows the transforming touch of God to bring us the serenity we yearn to experience . . . despite the sorrow we feel.  When we allow God to alter our attitude about the losses we suffer, we also consent to God’s transformation.  We enter into life’s shattering experiences, and then exit with a new view of the world, a renewed sense of compassion, and a serenity that cannot be shaken.  Lamentations gives us an opportunity to examine our attitude toward pain and God’s deep and abiding love for us.

Today’s Mass readings provide a road map for healing through pain: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19, Psalm 86, Romans 8:26-27 and Matthew 13:24-43 all outline the same lesson: God has infinite patience, compassion, mercy and love . . . enough to heal any breach or restore any loss.  From today’s MAGNIFICAT mini-reflection: “God in his providence will use even the apparent evil that attends us in life to some perfecting purpose; out of our littleness, our emptiness, our nothingness Gods greatness will flower in an astonishing way”.  (Cameron, 251)  Rather than curse our loss as punishment or the end of an era, when we rely on God we learn to celebrate each shattering experience as the beginning of something new.  And so we pray . . .

Good and patient God,

For all the times we forget to call on you when we suffer and for those times we lose patience with ourselves and others . . . continue to be patient with us.

For all the times we show anger instead of compassion and for those times we commit acts of vengeance rather than love . . . continue to be merciful with us.

For all those times we are anxious about evil in the world and for those times we forget that you always pull goodness out of wickedness . . . continue to abide in us.

For all those times we grow weary of the daily struggles and for those times we waver in our trust . . . continue to be with us.  Amen. 


Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.1017. Print. 

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Mini-Reflection.” MAGNIFICAT. 17 July 2011: 251. Print.

Image from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/ancient/isis-hasnt-destroyed-ancient-palmyra-ruins-yet/

Read Full Post »


Job: In Praise of Wisdom and Hope

Thursday, August 29, 2018

Before we leave the story of Job, we give ourselves the gift of time with this innocent sufferer who foreshadows the hope of the Messiah. Today we look at the story of “the hero . . . subjected to a divine test as a means of ascertaining whether or not he serves the deity without thinking about profiting from it.” (Barton and Muddiman 331) Just as Job enters into debate with his friends and the Lord, so do we have the invitation to deliberate with the Almighty the existential questions that plague us as humans.

Stylistically, this book presents us with a combination of poetry and prose. Does this signal our dual human yet divine essence? Does this tell us that we are called to live in the world but be not of it? Does this remind us that although we are mortal, we also live forever in Christ? The style certainly communicates the ideas that the innocent suffer. The beauty of the poetry may indicate our hope in the Spirit against the backdrop prose of our separation.

From the ARCHEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE, “[T]he reader knows from the outset that Job is suffering because of his righteousness (Job 1). Thus, when Job rails against his pain and contends that he has not deserved it (eg., ch. 31), the early reader – who had insider knowledge from the prelude – recognized that he spoke the truth. Unable to fall back on pat answers that were almost universally accepted at the time, readers were forced to wrestle with the question along with Job as they worked their way through the text to God’s final answer. The resultant new understanding of the meaning of suffering and the justice of God, contrary as it was to the conventional wisdom of the day, must have astonished them.” (Zondervan 732)

Wisdom and hope are the gifts Job brings us through his suffering, questioning, persistence and fidelity. Wisdom and hope are gifts of the Spirit of God. Wisdom and hope are embodied in the life of Christ who abides with us still. Today we give thanks for these matchless gifts. Today we share the good news that are recipients of such generous mercy. Today we praise God for the healing wisdom of the Spirit, and the lessons Job brings us of hope.


Images from https://chicago.suntimes.com/health/mind-over-body-new-book-tells-how-to-tap-into-wisdom-and-grow-with-age/

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 732. Print.

Barton, John, and John Muddiman. THE OXFORD BIBLE COMMENTARY. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001. 331. Print.

Read Full Post »


Job 24: Violence on Earth

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Yesterday we reflected on Job’s desire to sit with the Creator in order to engage in an intimate conversation. In an age when suffering is connected with sin, Job suffers doubly, having to endure pain while at the same time defending his innocence to his family and friends. Yet he persists, remains faithful, and recognizes the small pearls of hope that come to him. When God has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

Today we watch as Job asks:

Why doesn’t God set a time for judging,
    a day of justice for those who serve him?

He observes a litany of violence taking place around him.

People move property lines to get more land;
    they steal sheep and put them with their own flocks.
They take donkeys that belong to orphans,
    and keep a widow’s ox till she pays her debts.
They prevent the poor from getting their rights
    and force the needy to run and hide. So the poor, like wild donkeys,
    search for food in the dry wilderness.

Evil people make slaves of fatherless infants
    and take the children of the poor in payment for debts.

The litany continues until Job’s friend Zophar intercedes with his own assertions and questions.

For a while the wicked prosper,
    but then they wither like weeds,
    like stalks of grain that have been cut down.
Can anyone deny that this is so?
Can anyone prove that my words are not true?

As Job struggles to understand the conflict between good and evil, so do we. We may be like Zophar who accepts the assumption that all evildoers suffer in God’s time rather than our own. Or we may be more like Job who wants a conversation with the Almighty as he looks for authentic answers to his questions. Zophar seems content with allowing evil to proceed unchecked and unchallenged while Job goes deeper. Perhaps this is because Job, the innocent, faithful, hopeful one, suffers while Zophar continues in a comfortable world that makes sense to him.

The lesson we might take away today is this . . . even if we cannot change the evil around us, we might still question God. Even if we do not engender or encourage the violence that surrounds us, we might still commit our own small acts of mercy and justice. And even if we cannot make sense of the world’s great economy and plan, we might keep in mind that all belongs to and is of God.

In La Biblia de América, Chapters 23 & 24 of Job bear a title that translates to: Between Desire and Fear of the Encounter. Not only do these words describe the viewpoints we see today, they also present us with significant questions . . . Are we content to remain in our comfort zone of knowing, or are we willing to step into the world’s violence to represent a path of peace? Do we look for an intimate encounter with God despite the suffering we see and experience, or do we fear this marvelous gift of intimacy with God? What is it we seek?

Job asks: Why doesn’t God set a time for judging, a day of justice for those who serve him?

Perhaps that time is now.


Tomorrow, Bildad asks, how can a mortal be righteous before God?

When we compare various translations with the citations from THE GOOD NEWS TRANSLATION above, we open a dialog with God. 

LA BIBLIA DE LA AMÉRICA. 8th. Madrid: La Casa de la Biblia, 1994. Print.

Image from: https://www.sapiens.org/evolution/human-violence-evolution/

Read Full Post »


Job 23: Bitter Complaint

Jan the Elder Lievens: Job

Friday, August 17, 2018

It is a good idea to visit the story of Job once in a while. This book of wisdom has so much to tell us beyond the casual glance. Who among us has not felt abandoned by God, or believed that life has asked too much of us? Job longs for an intimate conversation with God through which he might lay out his case and be acquitted forever by [his] judge.

Job knows that somewhere there is a reason for the injustice he suffers, and he is persistent in his quest. It seems that his fidelity does not serve him. His innocence goes unnoticed. His search for the almighty continues, and in this seeking we find seeds of hope.

If I go forward, he is not there;
    or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
    I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

The marvel of the New Testament story is that – as if in answer to Job’s bitter plaint – the God this wise man seeks comes to walk among us as one of us. The miracle of the resurrection brings us hope that Job lives in such a unique way. The promise of the Pentecost brings us healing and mercy in the person of the Spirit who dwells in us every moment and accompanies us in every location of our lives . . . forward, backward, to the right and to the left.

Job cries out,

Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
    that I might come even to his dwelling!

Morgan Weistling: Walking with God

Today, in our world that broadcasts its pain on more than a billion and half television screens and nearly two billion smartphones in a non-stop cycle of violence, we might join Job in his sad moaning. The evidence seems to great for us to explain away or comprehend. Fidelity does not serve him, innocence counts for nothing; yet Job holds out hope . . . as we might also do when we remember the story of the Christ child. Light comes into the darkness. God’s love is manifest in the persona of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. yet . . .

I still rebel and complain against God;
    I cannot keep from groaning.
How I wish I knew where to find him,
    and knew how to go where he is.

Job had only the Old Testament promise of a coming Messiah. We have that Messiah’s presence today. Oh that we might remember this when we look forward, backward, to our right and our left as we continue our bitter complaint.


Tomorrow, Job 24, a violent world.

Images from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Job_(biblical_figure) and https://www.lordsart.com/wawigodbymow.html

Read Full Post »


Matthew 5:4: The Inverted Kingdom – Part II

Thursday, January 12, 2017mourning

Jesus proposes that we forego power and wealth, pleasure and honor. Today we consider the solution to overcoming our overwhelming desire for pleasure, and our deep aversion to pain and suffering.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (NSRV)

This vision of the world sees those who suffer as close to God.

Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them! (GNT)

This picture of the world sees those who grieve as central to God’s design.

Those who are sad now are happy. God will comfort them. (ICB)

This view of the world sees those who are addicted to their own comfort above that of others as missing the essence of God’s plan.

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (MSG)

This picture of the world sees aversion to suffering as an obstacle to intimacy with God.

The Gospels show us how God’s Word brings healing and comfort to those who mourn. They show us that Jesus makes a choice to cure and transform the wounded and betrayed. They show us that the Spirit is always abiding with those in the margins of society, rather than with those who hold themselves apart to seek after their own preference and desires.

How do we see ourselves as becoming an essential part of God’s designs and plans?

When we compare varying versions of this verse, we better understand how we might enrich our lives by sacrificing our comfort to tend to the suffering of others.

Read Full Post »


Micah 4: Restoration of the People

Friday, June 17, 2016blindspot

Here again is the image of the shepherd brought to us by the prophet Micah. God gathers his scattered people and guides them to safety. Just as Yahweh sent Moses to shepherd the people from Egypt, through the desert, and eventually to the Promised Land, so too, does Jesus arrive in Bethlehem to shepherd us to our own promise. And this is what Micah predicts. He tells of the one who comes to rebuke nations yet to teach us his ways and paths. Micah warns of the coming persecution, but from that persecution and suffering come redemption and restoration. There will be universal peace.

These are comforting words. These are words we need to hear.

Adapted from a reflection written on April 1, 2007.

Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald have written BLINDSPOT: HIDDEN BIASES OF GOOD PEOPLE. As we consider how we follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, we might listen to an On Being interview with Banaji at: http://www.onbeing.org/program/mahzarin-banaji-the-mind-is-a-difference-seeking-machine/8719 

Read Full Post »


2 Kings 10:1-11: Deception – Part III

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Metropolitan Museum: Etsucan Chariot detail

The Metropolitan Museum: Etruscan Chariot detail

The Wise and the Foolish

We have reflected on Ahab and Jezebel and their fall into corruption caused by their envy of Naboth’s vineyard. Today we see what happens to the seventy princes, their legacy.  There is no plan, no ally, no fortification that can withstand truth, light and life.

It is unsettling to read about the terrible events that take place as retribution for evil or of the clearing away of what follows upon the heels of deception.  Today we read about the end of an evil reign and if we celebrate love as Jesus teaches, there is no joy at the downfall of former foes.  He shows by example how to ask intercession for those who both love him and jeer at him.  Jesus is willing to speak to the wise among us who hear his words, believe, and act.  Jesus also speaks to the foolish among us who hear his words and continue to ignore his call.

Ahab and Jezebel lived a life governed by self; their end and the end of their children is certainly a lesson in how our best laid plans go awry when God is not a part of them.  We might look at two verses in particular: [They] have the chariots, the horses, a fortified city, and the weapons . . . The seventy princes were in the care of prominent men of the city, who were rearing them.  Ahab and Jezebel laid every possible plan, made every conceivable provision. They “hard-wired” their legacy; yet all disappears because the walls of their city were an illusion and their strategies futile.  They thought of themselves, their whims and their comfort first and only.  They believed that they had built their legacy on thinking and behavior that was everlasting.  Today we see that their plans were finite; they and their children came to an ugly end.  We might also remember two verses from Psalm 20: Some rely on chariots, others on horses, but we on the name of the Lord our God.  They collapse and fall, but we stand strong and firm.  (Psalm 20:8-9)

To be wise, to be foolish: the choice always lies before us.  To build on a firm foundation, to build on sand: the work is always before us.  To act out of self-interest, to act out of love for others: the action is always before us.  We may choose the path of Ahab and Jezebel and see our princes slaughtered.  Or we may act like Christ to be open and vulnerable to suffering . . . to be open to eternal joy and hope.

Adapted from a favorite written on December 4, 2008.

For more reflections on Jezebel, enter her name into the blog search bar and explore. 

Read Full Post »


Isaiah 61: Prophecy Fulfilled

Monday, June 6, 2016jesus reads isaiah

The opening words of this chapter are the ones that Jesus stands to read in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4: 16-21). He follows this reading with the announcement that the words are fulfilled for them that day. Tension builds as those present question Jesus and realize that he is, indeed, saying that he is the Messiah, and that they have not listened to him or to God. A riot results and the congregation hauls him off to the edge of the cliff to hurl him over; but in the melee Jesus slips away.

These are such troubling words. These are such comforting words. Why are the people so angry? Why does the congregation reject good news? Why does Jesus’ audience refuse to allow the healing of broken hearts, anxiety and worry? When we pause to reflect, we realize that we too frequently do as this crowd does in Luke 4. We also reject the beautiful good news that Isaiah brings to us.

Envy is a powerful force. Those who would hurl the Messiah from the cliff forget that God alone saves, God alone heals, and God alone brings true freedom from all that holds us down. The crowd was thinking – in the same pride-filled way that we also might think – that they alone were responsible for all good things in their lives. They did not want to believe that they were not Yahweh’s faithful who followed The Mosaic Law to the letter. And they did not want to be challenged about their conduct, nor did they want anyone to discover the corruption of the system they had established.

As we read the words of Isaiah’s Chapter 61, in this “Book of Consolation,” we are filled with the knowledge that through perseverance and pain, good things do happen. Each day my children and grandchildren, my students, friends, colleagues, and even strangers bring God to me. I am healed by their prayer, their action, their connection with me in and through Christ.

And all God asks in return is that we take the suffering we have experienced and transform ourselves so that we too may in turn heal and cure. God asks that we also bring hope to the afflicted. Isaiah reminds us that we are all anointed. We are all called. We only need to reply to God’s call in word and deed.

Adapted from a reflection written on February 27, 2007.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: