Gazing upon the Mystery

Suffering: Week 2

Gazing upon the Mystery
Sunday, October 21, 2018

The genius of Jesus’ ministry is that he reveals how God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself (all of which are normally inevitable), not to punish us but, in fact, to bring us to God and to our True Self, which are frequently discovered simultaneously. There are no dead ends in this spiritual life. Nothing is above or beyond redemption. Everything can be used for transformation.

After all, on the cross, God took the worst thing, the “killing of God,” and made it into the best thing—the redemption of the world! If we gaze upon the mystery of the cross long enough, our dualistic mind breaks down, and we see in hindsight that nothing was totally good or totally bad. We realize that God uses the bad for good, and that many people who call themselves good (like those who crucified Jesus) may not be so good. And many who seem totally bad (like Jesus’ crucifiers) end up being used for very good purposes indeed.

Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29; Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing.

Suffering is the only thing strong enough to destabilize the imperial ego. The separate and sufficient self has to be led to the edge of its own resources, so it learns to call upon the Deeper Resource of who it truly is (but does not recognize yet): the God Self, the True Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha Self—use whatever words you want. It is who we fundamentally are in God and who God is dwelling in us. Once we are transplanted to this solid place, we are largely indestructible! But then we must learn to rest there, and not just make occasional forays into momentary union. That is the work of our whole lifetime.

This is how Etty Hillesum (1914–1943) describes the indestructible nature of the True Self in the midst of all the horrors of the Westerbork transit camp, a staging ground for the deportation of Jews during the Holocaust:

This morning, while I stood at the tub with a colleague, I said with great emotion something like this: “The realms of the soul and the spirit are so spacious and unending that this little bit of physical discomfort and suffering doesn’t really matter all that much. I do not feel I have been robbed of my freedom; essentially no one can do me any harm at all.” [1]

Hillesum is speaking of her True Self, which cannot be hurt. She describes the True Self earlier in her diary as follows:

Truly, my life is one long hearkening unto my self and unto others, unto God. And if I say that I hearken, it is really God who hearkens inside me. The most essential and the deepest in me hearkening unto the most essential and the deepest in the other. God to God. [2]

References:
[1] Etty Hillesum, Letter (June 29, 1943). See An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941–1943 and Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 287-288.

[2] Hillesum, Diary entry (September 17, 1942). Ibid., 204.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 121-122.

Image Credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), by Pieter Lastman, 1621. Kunstpalast Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. —Richard Rohr
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