Saturday, February 28, 2015

Thoughts on suffering

This afternoon, my muscles felt seized for yet another day, and my joints were stiff. Overall, I know I don’t have the muscle coordination that I could have. You see, I have Ankylosing Spondylitis. A disorder relating to the immune system that causes my joints and bones to react adversely to the regular wear and tear of daily life. Living with chronic pain is possible, but it interrupts the natural flow of things and forces you to accept slowing down and being weaker than you’d like to be. Having a stiff spine has affected the way my muscles work, because for years I would force myself to try to have good postureor at the very least—be in a more comfortable position. This constant unnatural shifting to attempt to undo or correct something that is unnaturally out of balance has affected other parts of myself that are not even related to the source of the illness. What I mean by this is that my muscles, my thinking, my breathing, my walking, the very experience of life is altered simply due to a reduction of ordinary function of my immune system. The unnatural and exaggerated attacks my body produces against my joints and muscles are like being locked out of your own house in the cold. It is like locking your keys inside your car with your cell phone and all your resources. At times, it feels as if I’ve lost my ability to reason how to proceed from this point forward.

But proceed I’ve done, and without fail have seen the power of time. At first, I thought time was looking at me, laughing at me, like a mean group of kids. Trying to take advantage of my embarrassment, that at this moment, I was incapable of being in charge. It felt like time itself was observing me in cruel judgment from a place I could never be. Being a body, with fragility and pain, never able to reach a place of understanding and maturity that time offered. But as I kept getting up and walking forward, I realized that in my nearsightedness, no one was laughing at me. No one was even waiting for me. The meaning of time was obscured, as if I wasn’t wearing the right glasses to see the scene that was happening in front of me. These glasses are not worn by any human being. But still, we try to squint and interpret the meaning of our time in this body however we can.

This brings me to suffering. There comes a point after so many days of moving forward that you get tired of suffering. You wish to be overcome with a reality that only contains loving, compassionate kindness. If you are fortunate enough to have received this, it gives you the arsenal to be able to dispense it. Dispense it to yourself, dispense it to others when you are ready to sense if it won’t be lost on them, and boomerang back to you like so many mocking words that cut the goodness of your intentions down to size. Yes, in suffering we are small people that like to see a shrunken life, one that can be understood with eyes narrowed. Eyes that are tired of squinting for meaning and purpose.  Eyes that starts to convince the brain that time moves in a linear way; in a way that cannot recover the selfish glory and innocence of its earlier half-revelations and mistakes. One that begins to understand, in ways that truly understand less and less. This is the strain of suffering. Suffering affects everything, it does not exist in a vacuum of the mind, or in the body without affecting more than can be controlled. This total viral epidemic of suffering bottled up brings a new kind of death, that eats away at willpower, goodness and compassion. A kind that masks our deep and necessary needs and intentions with pithy and selfish half-visions and dreams that close in on themselves, getting smaller and smaller, creating less space for movement and growth like a cramped muscle. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message version of the New Testament: “ It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.” (Galatians 5:19-21).

Yes, I interrupted my train of thought with words from a letter, written to a group of people, by a man named Paul, translated in the 20th Century by some American pastor/scholar. Why would I do that? Because this list is brave, and it comes from a place of understanding suffering.
My last point and final summation is about the suffering of God himself. You see, God, is like time. There are no lenses I can wield or manufacture—by any means—to be able to see what He is clearly and with precision and clarity. This body of mine offers little explanation in and of itself, nor can it produce the right tools to explain or understand what God is doing, who or what He is made of. He is there, like a blur of something. It is easy to misinterpret meaning. I know I did. As I had said before, seeing Time/God as mocking, teasing, like a group of kids at school who have status and power that cannot be obtained in that particular moment. The most amazing twist in God's revelation to the world is through Jesus Christ. And like any good story, it is not until the end that things start to come together to really make sense. 

Tonight, as I laid in the bath, trying to let go of all the tension of stress of being human, thoughts flooded my brain, reasoning out the possibility that the single most important thing about the revelation of Jesus was to show how much God suffers also. It is an image, a representation for history, human record for all time to just simply know that God experiences suffering. Jesus could have prevented the suffering of a guiltless accusation. He has certainly proved himself worthy of dodging and escaping all prior attempts to destroy his life. It was like a game to him, except not the way his creation had grown to see things unclearly. He was not playing to win, he was playing to lose. He was playing to be imbued in the silent cries of being. To be identified as one of us. 

Suffering, this total body, all affecting angst of guilt and exhaustion is not exclusive to me. It isn’t even exclusive to the human race. It includes God himself. Those former obscurities and assumptions of abused power and bullying against my condition cannot be intended from Him for me. It is simply a distortion by my own insecurity. He, with all power in his being, slowly lowers his head and nods “Yes” in compliance with the fate to suffer. In all vulnerability He exposes truth and time not sitting regally at a comfortable distance, as would be safely assumed. He shows he is not above it, although he has the power to avoid it, in full compassion, love and kindness He willfully agrees to surrender to the worst of it. The valley of the shadow of death. Fearless and faithful in all the ways I am incapable. Simply so I can see him with my heart and soul, and not be fooled by my own lack of vision, or thrown off by the pains of human weakness.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Thanks for clearly outlining your inner perceptions about personal suffering and the web of anxiety it can produce.