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Center for Action and Contemplation
Radical Resilience
Radical Resilience

A Free “Yes” in Adversity

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr helps us come to terms with the suffering of life:

Carl Jung (1875–1961) believed much suffering occurs unnecessarily because people won’t accept the “legitimate suffering” [1] that comes from being human. He wrote, “Behind [mental conflict] there is so often concealed all the natural and necessary suffering the patient has been unwilling to bear.” [2] Ironically, refusal of the necessary pain of being human brings a person ten times more suffering in the long run. It’s no surprise that the first and always unwelcome message in the male initiation rites that I have helped lead is “life is hard.” We really are our own worst enemy when we deny this.

Episcopal priest and researcher Alice Updike Scannell (1938–2019) identified radical resilience as the ability to endure, grow, and thrive through adversity:

We usually think of resilience as the ability to recover from an adverse experience and pick up our lives where we left off. It is that too.… But there are times when adversity permanently changes our reality and we can’t go back to the way things were.…

Resilience then becomes the work of coming through the adversity so that, at least on most days, we see our life as still worth living. With this kind of resilience, we come through the adversity knowing that we’re still ourselves, even though things are very different for us now. I call this radical resilience. [3]

Richard sees suffering inherent in all of reality, but only humans have the choice to accept or deny it:

What I call “necessary” suffering goes on every day, seemingly without question. As I wrote this in the deserts of Arizona, I read that only one saguaro cactus seed out of a quarter of a million seeds ever makes it even to early maturity, and few reach full growth. Most of nature seems to totally accept major loss, gross inefficiency, mass extinctions, and short life spans as simply the price of life. Ironically, feeling that sadness, and even its full absurdity, pulls us into the general dance, the unified field, and an unexpected deep gratitude for what is given—with no necessity and so gratuitously.

Reality, creation, nature itself, what I call “the First Body of Christ,” has no choice in the matter of necessary suffering. It lives the message without saying yes or no to it. It holds and resolves all the foundational forces, all the elementary principles and particles within itself—willingly, it seems. This is the universe in its wholeness, the “great nest of being,” including even the powerless, invisible, and weak parts that have so little freedom or possibility. The Second Body of Christ, the formal church, always has the freedom to say yes or no. That very freedom allows it to say “no” much of the time, especially to any talk of dying, stumbling, admitting mistakes, or falling. Yet God seems ready and willing to wait for, and to empower, free will and a free “yes.”

[1] Carl Gustav Jung, Psychology and Religion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), 92.

[2] C. G. Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy: Essays on the Psychology of the Transference […], trans. R. F. C. Hull (New York: Pantheon Books, 1954), 81.

[3] Alice Updike Scannell, Building Resilience: When There’s No Going Back to the Way Things Were (New York: Church Publishing, 2017, 2020), 1, 2.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, rev. ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2024), 47, 49–50.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Keeping the Candle Lit (detail), New Mexico, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

Resilience requires endurance – we keep watch to keep the candle lit.

Story from Our Community:  

I ride the L train to get to work and school. Over the past 2 1/2 years, I’ve seen many sides of humanity—the generosity of strangers, the pain and isolation of mental illness, the goodness and the resilience of people who’ve been thrown away by our society. There are babies, the disabled, unhoused folks, and kids on their way home from class. I’ve seen a thousand different needs, hopes, desires, and storylines play out on the train. I ride and I bear witness. The train has become my chapel—a sacred space of encounter. Each ride offers an opportunity to be more aware of my fellow human, to respond to need with compassion, to do the next loving thing, then the next, then the next…. —Yoli J.

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