Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | March 3, 2008

The Suffering Wisdom of Texas Jack

There is suffering… and then there is suffering love. We tend to experience them separately, but the wonder would lie in one transforming the other.

Father Gregory has a note on suffering that had me thinking over the weekend on a slightly different track. I began to wonder how in so many ways suffering simply does not discriminate… and neither does fortune… as if to show us how God loves all, that God’s mercy and his justice love us despite our merits or demerits and far exceeds our own abilities to comprehend. Just as suffering is visited on the undeserving, so too, good fortune is visited as well on the undeserving. Yet I have never been comfortable with assigning responsibility for our suffering to God as well… because in so many ways that we do suffer… some are self-imposed… some indeed are choices to receive an experience as one of suffering when it in fact may not be. Some, but not all. And so I floundered.

Then along came Dixie’s piece on suffering and the outline she ascribes as “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” that reminded me vaguely of the book by the same title. Read long ago on the death of a very close friend – still my best friend, I found little or no comfort there (in that book), either. Rather the closest thing to comfort at that time lay in the stained glass windows of the Catholic church at the funeral. Here Christ’s suffering walk to Golgotha was laid out window by window… and my wife and I thought, “The Father gave up his only son at thirty-three, my friend, dead at thirty-four… surely God knows this pain, too.” With time, this helped together with beginning something new as a small gift, as a sort of offering in his memory.

By happy coincidence, reading last night in Archimandrite Zacharias’s “The Enlargement of the Heart” offered a response that echoes and expands this:

“Remember Job, when he put the question, “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?” (Job 7:17). He then gives the answer which in the Greek version of the Septuagint, is extremely beautiful: man holds God’s attention, because he can be… an “accuser of God”, that is, someone who can stand before His Face and even quarrel with Him; not in a bad spirit, but in order to go deeper in the love of God, and fathom His judgments (Job 7:20 Lxx). This calling is incomprehensible, great and wondrous. Its acceptance brings the grace of the Holy Spirit, which preserves and adorns man, leading him to a never-ending likeness to Christ, the Son of God. Consequently, the calling of God in Trinity is a call of love. This love, though, is not of the earth, but of heaven. God is by nature completely free and in His relationship with man remains free from every passion and necessity. But man, too, created according to the image of God, possesses an independence which cannot be constrained. The first visitation to man of divine love comes to fruition when God finds him well-disposed to receive the energy of His grace with a good will.”

And so perhaps the energy of our pain and suffering gives us the opportunity to be transformed in a good spirit… in a spirit of love which for us is akin in many ways to our familial love we knew as children (think of those railings against Mom or Dad’s “rules” – but maybe not as teenagers!). And in this, perhaps it becomes a gift if we can but see it…. even if it takes time, and I think it does. At the time, we no doubt rail at the pain… but perhaps God hears it differently and hears instead our entreaty to understand his love.

So maybe the next time we suffer, maybe the knee-jerk response… isn’t so jerky. Maybe indeed there is something to be gained… maybe we should indeed rail at the heavens… and seek to discover God’s love, here and now. We fancy we can’t have this conversation… this way… at this time. We fancy that we have to get ourselves “all prayerful and stuff”, but maybe instead we should stop and do better. And perhaps like Texas Jack (Larry Storch) in “The Great Race”, we should just grab a bar stool, break it, and start hollerin’ , “Now won’t anyone gimme some fightin’ room?” Nah, not a chance.


Responses

  1. I just left a comment on Dixie’s blog about suffering.

    How are you enjoying Fr. Z’s book? I have the 5 disc set of his lecture by the same name. Unbelievable!

  2. In a word… it’s great. I actually keep trying to start another fiction book, but keep coming back to Fr. Z. I have the 5 disc set from last year… but wondered what went on in the first set of lectures a couple of years earlier. Will probably get the book version for the disc set, too. Call me crazy. But it lets you actually parse the words and look very closely at what he says. These books are full of all the asides… not just the lecture alone, and also the Q and A… very good.

    Not to get off track, but I struggle with the sense of chastisement / discipline thing. I think Fr. John Breck and many others seem to tell us that all good things come from God…which is not to say that we aren’t chastised or disciplined… but that it is a different sense of it. Yet so much of what people ascribe by these terms really are bad things… And we are not to blame God for much that people often seem to. So I struggle with those phrases. And I think this is why I am thankful for Fr. Z’s account.

    I think there is also, however, a use of chastisement that has been lost… that is actually a sense of words I recall in my college course on Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus and Penelope meet for the first time in 20 years.. and there is a gentleness and sense of love that can be involved in this notion that simply does not come across in English. Probably the same held true for English poetry… but I was a medieval guy and get fuzzier with all that “modern stuff”.

    This is similar to the notion Fr. Evan makes in his catechesis course (linked here on the blog) in his 1st or 2nd lecture when he discusses the resurrection encounter between Peter and Christ.. and how the Greek makes clear that there is a change in the meaning of love used in the discourse “Peter, do you love me (unconditionally)” and Peter responds, “Of course I love you (like a friend)”… but in English all we get is “love” without the noted differences. Fr. Evan further notes how Christ responds to this almost “put down” … in a “okay, I’ll take what I can get” manner. And this is why we English folks, I think, end up reading a million books!!! to pick up the subtleties lost in translation.


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