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This is one of my favorite prayers. Okay, technically, it isn’t a prayer.  It was written in The Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.  But I use it as a prayer.

For those you who don’t know of Julian of Norwich, she lived approximately from 1342 to 1416.  She was a spiritual counselor, a woman who set herself off from the world and lived at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich.  Thus the name by which we know her.  That’s right.  This isn’t even her real name.

Does that mean we should pity her as a woman whose identity has been taken from her?  I don’t think so but not because that isn’t an issue.  It is but in this case I suspect it is what she wanted.  She was an educated woman who wrote the oldest surviving Western book to be written by a woman.  She has a clue.

In The Revelations of Divine Love, she writes about her visions of Christ.  In one vision, she was bemoaning the fact that sin had to exist.  Wouldn’t everything be better if there was no sin? But Christ answered her in her vision, “It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

How often in prayer do we spend our time looking back, gazing on past sin and suffering?  Oh, God.  Why did this have to happen?

It did happen.  But there is God and where there is God there is hope.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The world is not a perfect place and yet we have grace.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

We are flawed but we are God’s.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

–SueBE

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Or the humanity of someone else.  We have, after all, been charged to help the least among us.  Like Miss Ruth said all so well, if you can’t be bothered, step aside.  Enough is enough already.

–SueBE

“It’s no big deal,” my sister says on the phone of her recent hysterectomy. “Of all my surgeries, it was the easiest.” Of course, this is a woman who has had surgery on her eyeball. And endured a double mastectomy. It is not surprising to me that she is stoic. She knows the way of pain.

The way of pain is also Jesus’ way. Imagine, if you will, being tortured for hours by Roman guards, kept up all night, having a crown of thorns digging inexorably into your head…then being loaded up with a wooden crucifix you can barely lift and having to drag it to your own execution site. All this before getting nailed to said cross and dying of exsanguination or collapsed lungs or shock or all three. And yet the gospel-writers never include anything about Jesus hollering curses or demanding morphine or even venting slightly with a few cross words (pun intended). Jesus takes on the worst physical pain — and the pain of all the sins of the world — and still finds time to take care of his mother, forgive a thief and absolve his murderers. Now that is something.

Pain is lonely. It cuts a person off from others. There is no “sharing” pain; each person’s pain is unique. When I broke my ankle many years ago, I felt pretty bad. Then a friend of mine related the story of how she broke her ankle. Just hearing the story made me know that what I was experiencing was, frankly, laughable.

Pain is dehumanizing, reducing most of us to our worst selves. When an animal is in pain, it may hide. If confronted, it will bite. We humans do this too, in our own way. Neither strategy lessens the pain, but the kind of thinking that goes along with pain is seldom rational.

Pain has become something of a dirty word in this country. We will go to great lengths to extinguish it with pills, shots and other tinctures, both of the legal and illegal variety. No one wants to walk through pain. But pain is also salvific: It is perhaps our only means of intersecting our life experience with that of Christ. I will never be able to multiply loaves and fishes, but I can certainly understand how it feels to hurt.

Holy Week is coming up next week, a week wherein we remember Jesus’ suffering and his triumph over death. It seems an opportune time to reflect on the pain in our lives. We all experience pain, physical, mental or spiritual. But what we do with that pain matters. Non-Catholics tease Catholics over the use of the phrase, “Give it up to God.” We use it a lot, for everything from small deprivations to devastating losses. But what that phrase means is this: With this experience, I am touching, in the tiniest way, the way of the cross and the way of Christ. This provides an opportunity for something special — to choose Jesus’ response of understanding, acceptance and sanctification or to allow myself to be diminished.

The way of pain is not the easy way. It is not something to strive for. But when it is thrust upon us, as it inevitably is, it is a place of possibility. And in this place, we are at one with God.

 

 

What a week! Between the ravages of Sandy and the contentious election — just over half of the country is jubilant, the rest bitter — what we would seem most to need is a good nap. Unfortunately, there’s no rest for the wicked or weary…or for bloggers, for that matter. I sat down with pen and paper in an effort to write something of meaning. This is what came to me.

We are not owed, we are owing.

Born to contradictions day and night,

to fall down, to suffer,

to lament, to be rained on

and crawl out of the muck

panting and straining but alive

and more in love with life than ever.

Over and over we rise —

phoenixes, miracles.

The heart does not fail.

Love does not fail.

God does not fail.

Whatever you are dealing with this week, I wish you the balm of kindness, mercy and love. Try to be good to others. You never know what they are facing.

The weight of the world is on my shoulders. Or it feels like it, anyway. And I’m not the only one. It seems as though, lately, tragedies and trials have been piling up on everyone I know. Family members are ill. A long-time friend has aggressive cancer. My childhood next-door-neighbor died yesterday. My friend’s aunt is in a spiral of desolation and decline since the death of her husband. We all seem to be suffering like never before.

I’m praying passionately, all the time. That’s why SueBe’s post this week was so reassuring to me: It reminded me that I’m not being a pest if I ask for help, even if I ask over and over again, incessantly. Part of me doesn’t want to “bother” God: After all, there are starving people, people without homes or clean water to drink. What are my problems compared to theirs, in the scheme of things?

The idea that God could love me enough to listen and care about my troubles with exactly the same weight he affords to kings and saints-in-the-making…well, it’s pretty hard to fathom. But there it is. And we should celebrate it. Even with all our burdens, we have one good thing going for us: The ultimate listening ear.

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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