Father Richard Rohr teaches that God uses love and suffering, and especially suffering, as universal paths to reach and change us.
Two universal paths of transformation have been available to every human being God has created: great love and great suffering. These are offered to all; they level the playing fields of all the world religions. Only love and suffering are strong enough to break down our usual ego defenses, crush our dualistic thinking, and open us to Mystery. In my experience, they like nothing else exert the mysterious chemistry that can transmute us from a fear-based life into a love-based life. None of us are exactly sure why. We do know that words, even good words or fine theology, cannot achieve that on their own. No surprise that the Christian icon of redemption is a man offering love from a crucified position!
Love and suffering are part of most human lives. Without any doubt, they are the primary spiritual teachers more than any Bible, church, minister, sacrament, or theologian. Wouldn’t it make sense for God to make divine truth so readily available? If the love of God is perfect and victorious, wouldn’t God offer every human being equal and universal access to the Divine as love and suffering do? This is what Paul seems to be saying to the Athenians in his brilliant sermon at the Areopagus: “All can seek the Deity, feeling their way toward God and succeeding in finding God. For God is not far from any of us, since it is in God that we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27–28). What a brilliant and needed piece of theology to this day!
Love is what we long for and were created for—in fact, love is what we are as an outpouring from God—but suffering often seems to be our opening to that need, that desire, and that identity. Love and suffering are the main portals that open the mind space and the heart space (either can come first), breaking us into breadth and depth and communion. Almost without exception, great spiritual teachers will have strong and direct guidance about love and suffering. If we never go there, we will not know these essentials. We’ll try to work it all out in our heads, but our minds alone can’t get us there. We must love “with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and our whole strength” (Mark 12:30).
Finally, there is a straight line between love and suffering. If we love greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer, because we have somehow given up control to another. That is my simple definition of suffering: whenever we are not in control.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2009), 122–123, 127.
Explore Further. . .
Read James Finley on John of the Cross and suffering.
Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 2, Untitled 3, Untitled 9 (details), 2022, photographs, Colorado, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: The hollow feeling when loved ones are no longer present, like holes in a log. The pain of a thorn piercing skin. This tree has suffered and witnessed suffering. We too have suffered and witness suffering.
Story from Our Community:
Back in 2011, I was off balance. I retreated to a small home; I had no idea what I was doing, I only knew I was lost. Slowly poetry began to pour out of me. A wise voice spoke to me and revealed a path forward—a new way to be. Through great suffering and turmoil, this gentle loving voice has brought me to a place of great peace and love for the oneness of all creation. —Karla D.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.