Suffering: Week 2
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
My colleague James Finley is someone who incarnates the truth that the suffering we carry is our solidarity with the one, universal longing of all humanity, and thus it can teach us great compassion and patience with both ourselves and others. Here he shares the intimate truth of his own suffering. I invite you to witness Jim’s experience (and perhaps your own trauma) with tenderness and love:
Mysticism doesn’t really come into its own and isn’t really incarnational unless it becomes integrated into the sometimes-painful realities of our daily lives. I think I relate so deeply to Christian mystic John of the Cross who wrote soulfully about a kind of dark night of faith because I was raised in a home with a lot of trauma—physical, sexual, and emotional abuse—and I was very fragmented by all of it. I graduated from high school, ran away from home, became a monk, and joined a monastery.
When I entered the monastery, I thought I had left the trauma behind me. I was in this silent cloister, with Thomas Merton for my spiritual director. I was walking around reading John of the Cross, and I felt like I had it made, really. And then I was sexually abused by one of the monks, my confessor. It completely shattered me. I never thought it was possible. I didn’t see it coming. I decompensated and became extremely dissociative. All the stuff that I lived with growing up came out as feelings of fear and confusion over which I seemed to have no control. There was no refuge for me. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I just left. I started a new life as a way to bury all the pain and move on.
Years later, I found myself in therapy and all hell broke loose. But with prayer and gentle pacing, I learned to see, feel, accept, and find my way through the long-term internalized effects of the trauma I had to endure in my childhood and adolescence. It was in this process that I came upon what I call the axial moment in which our most intimate experience of who we are turns, as on a hidden axis of love, down through the pain into a qualitatively richer, more vulnerable place. It is in the midst of this turning that we discover the qualitatively richer, more vulnerable place is actually the abyss-like, loving presence of God, welling up and giving itself in and as the intimate interiority of our healing journey. When we risk sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade us or abandon us, we unexpectedly come upon within ourselves what Jesus called the pearl of great price: the invincible preciousness of our self in our fragility.
In the act of admitting what we are so afraid to admit—especially if admitting means admitting it in our body, where we feel it in painful waves—in that scary moment of feeling and sharing what we thought would destroy us, we unexpectedly come upon within ourselves this invincible love that sustains us unexplainably in the midst of the painful situation we are in.
As we learn to trust in this paradoxical way God sustains us in our suffering, we are learning to sink the taproot of our heart in God, who protects us from nothing even as God so unexplainably sustains us in all things. As this transformative process continues, we find within and beyond ourselves resources of courage, patience, and tenderness to touch the hurting places with love, so they might dissolve in love until only love is left. This for me is a very deep, contemplative way to understand that Christ’s presence in the world is being bodied forth in and as the gift and miracle of our very presence in the world.
Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download; and
Transforming Trauma: A Seven-Step Process for Spiritual Healing, with Caroline Myss (Sounds True: 2009), CD, MP3 download.