Presence in pain

Continued from previous post.

I don't have answers to how this all works (life, faith, consciousness and belief, to name a few) but as I have matured faith has become a bearing with, and being with; it's how to be present. It's not an escape hatch ending to the difficulties of life.

Hope heals, but not always, and not permanently in our physical bodies on earth. Our bodies will fail us and we die. My family members, both blood relations and the family of humanity, are experiencing the pain of disease and illness, not to mention poverty, abuse, discrimination, and many other hardships.

My awareness of this reality deepens the older I get. I had a sheltered and golden childhood, free of trauma and marinated in love, and I had a purposeful "I'll make the right decisions" young adulthood that I thought would protect me from the suffering associated with poor choices. Suffering did not factor large in my formation.

Growing older, I'm destined to experience both the beauty and pain of life deeper and closer. How can I not?

As I look to the mentors around me I see the pattern of holding joy and pain, beauty and hardship as the path of growth.

My spiritual director is a woman in her early 70's (yes, it's a gift to be shepharded by such a wise woman) and earlier this spring she had 3 funerals to attend in one week. As you age, more people you know die. In the same week as death and funerals she met and ministered to a dozen or so spiritual directees and clients (she's also a psychotherapist). Listening, guiding, and providing light in darkness and confusion.

This is the trajectory, the path I'm walking. As I age I'll experience more pain, loss, and death and I'll have a greater appreciation for life, a deeper well of beauty, joy, and compassion.

The joy of spending a "simple" day with my family, exploring a nearby city was deeply meaningful to me. We were all together, I was happy. And at the same time, the pain of my niece, nephew, and uncle (and all the unspoken, unshared hurts) weigh on my heart. Both are real, both are true. One does not negate the other. And both must be experienced.

At this age I find myself wanting to go around asking people, how's this working for you? How are you holding this loss? How do you manage the pain of life? What do you do with this?

I feel the urge to ask, but it's not normal conversation and sometimes honestly, I'm afraid of the answers. I'm afraid to feel people's pain. I'm afraid they might have it all together (if not permanently, in that moment at least). And in my faith context, I'm afraid they'll speak in confident religious language and look at me with suspicion that I don't speak similarly.

After our wonderful Mother's Day Sunday, Monday morning dawned bright and beautiful, tulips blooming, and the weight of the trials and tribulations in the lives of those I love made me want to crawl back into bed. (The weight of my own troubles sometimes makes me want to crawl back into bed.)

I didn't go back to bed. The day and the week was too full of activity to allow for that. And although rest is good, I had been given a full night's sleep. I had risen to work, love, and pray.

This is what we do.

This is how we hold the beauty and the pain, by learning to bear afflictions with one another. We incarnate the love of God in being with one another. God is known to the other in each other when we give something of ourselves - our time, resources, skills, and agenda. And when we accept what others give.

God's presence is with me all the time in my loving relationships with other people. And so the goal for me is to be an active part of those relationships, to give and receive Divine love in my humanity, and most importantly to recognize the Divine presence being given in the most humblest of acts.

This is the true meaning of saying a prayer before you eat. It's a ritual to stop and be aware that you are being loved in the giving and receiving of this food. Eat this in remembrance of me.

The gift of our humanity and the spirit of God in humanity is in the sharing of life, the beauty and pain. It's about community and family, the intimate and the universal. (This is my take of the body of Christ - we're all family.)

This isn't about a belief, it's about living. And being with one another in the living, until we die.

I feel wholly inadequate for this job of being a communal human. I don't feel like I "do" enough. I don't host enough meals, make enough phone calls, visit enough, write enough letters to adequately communicate my love to others. I feel so very finite in what I can give. But I am not the point on which the whole thing rests. This is a collective effort, this community, this family of humanity, this body of Christ.

My response is to listen for the Spirit, respond to the gentle voice, love fiercely with what I have and who I am. And trust deeply that God is with us.

This season's meditation.

I really only have one prayer these days: Help us know you're here. Help me see you here. Help me make you known here. (Ok, that's three prayers.)

If you were to ask me, How's this working for you? How are you holding this loss? How do you manage the pain of life? What do you do with this? I think I'd have a two part answer.

One: I keep trying, in what feels inadequate and incompetent to the task, to love my people and other people. Two: I keep praying to know God in all things. To experience Divine presence, Divine Being and ultimately Love, in all the loss, pain, and anxieties of living.

I would love to be spared the loss, but that's not the reality of being human, therefore it can't be the meaning. For me the meaning is experiencing God in the most unlikeliest places, people, and circumstances. Which is to say always and everywhere.

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The other side of spring »
  • Karen Toews

    Karen Toews on June 3, 2018, 6:54 p.m.

    "Work, love and pray....this is what we do" - thank you for your post that speaks to every age-stage of life. I hear my heart saying 'me too'!" Also loved this: "Experiencing God in the most unlikeliest places, people, and circumstances. Which is to say always and everywhere".... oh, I don't want to miss Him! xoxo, Mom


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