Thursday, June 12, 2008

A vestige of my past life

During spiritual direction, I said that I somehow got the idea that the farther we are along our Christian path, the less likely we are to experience emotional pain and suffering. In other words, as we grow less attached to the world around us, and more attached to God, we should hurt less.

Where, dear reader, did I get this idea? There is nothing in the scriptures that promises that. In fact, it is basically the opposite. 'Pick up your cross daily' is not a promise that being a Christian will be a walk in the park.

And for me, it goes further. Somewhere in my head, I began to equate pain and suffering (especially emotional pain) with....sin.

I realize that when I am in pain, when I am suffering, I start looking around for a sin to blame. (And unlike Job, I usually can find something!) I have an underlying belief that I am inevitably the cause of my own suffering, through some sin or other. Not only that, I realize that I have a sense of shame around pain. I want to hide my pain because it is shameful.

Is this my past, new age, theology rearing it's ugly head? Is this the whole 'you draw this energy to yourself' stuff?

I remember when my friend Steve died of a drug overdose several years ago. I was devastated. But I knew that he was with God... off to a better place. I felt like I wasn't 'spiritual' enough if I was experiencing this much pain over his death. Thank God for the priest at the funeral, who preached on Jesus crying with Mary and Martha at Lazarus' grave. I suddenly felt permission to cry, to grieve.

I sometimes try to connect my suffering to that of Jesus, but if I have this underlying idea that I don't have the right to feel pain, it becomes a hollow gesture.

After rereading Job, I realize that I may never understand suffering, but that is ok, too. In the end, Job realized that he would never get it, either.

I need to pray about this.


Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel!
I don't think that you have necessarily dragged some of your New Age past along to this idea...careful reading in the Old Testament will show that this idea was quite common in a certain time. (One of my professors calls it Iron Age Theology- when everything, good or bad, has a clear cause an effect because every single moment of life is directed by God.)

Around the time of the Exiles, the Ancient Israelites started to be a bit more worldly (i.e. as they were dragged across it!) and this forces a theological shift in thinking, culminating in Job. The problem is, unless you really work to sort out and ingest Job, we kind of all like to default to the old cause and effect idea of God. Why?! Because in some twisted way, if sin is the cause of our problems and lack of sin proof of blessing...well, we have found a way around grace again.

I suppose you can tell this is a bend I've been around more than a few times!!

Much love,

Rachel Nguyen said...

Hey Amy,

I think it is ironic that some of the basic theology of the New Age is a retread of that 'iron age' theology your professor spoke of. It isn't all sweetness and light at all. At the core of it, there is a belief that you have done something or in some way invited the suffering in your life.

This is such a hard concept to shake!

John Michael Keba said...

"In other words, as we grow less attached to the world around us, and more attached to God, we should hurt less."

I just came across this in Annie Dillard's Pilgrim At Tinker Creek: "I am getting used to this planet and to this curious human culture which is as cheerfully enthusiastic as it is cheerfully cruel."

I used to be used to the cheerful cruelty of the world; or rather, I accepted it as a given condition. That indifference has left me as my understanding has grown that the crucifixion of Christ for our sins has never stopped. The smiling anchorman, eagerly passing on his station's "scoop" of the latest mass tragedy fills me with disgust and despair now, when once I never noticed him.

As for us moving past the Iron Age "cause and effect" God, we still reap what we sow: We have simply learned that Divine Providence makes use of random events, too. The God as Elmer Fudd analogy comes to mind.