Suffering That Saves

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“Suffering is not a punishment,” Robert Ingersoll wrote, “it is a result.” Suffering, we learn as we go, is the price we pay to bring life to fullness, both for others and for ourselves. It is not to be desired in a neurotic kind of way, but it is definitely not to be denied. For when we refuse to suffer, we refuse to grow. Suffering requires us to stretch our souls to the boundaries of personal growth. It brings to the surface in us both strengths and weaknesses we could never, in any other way, know we have. It is not about surrendering ourselves to pain left devoid of meaning. It is about finding meaning in the center of the self whatever the stresses around us.

~Joan Chittister, from The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series


In Requiem For A Nun, William Faulkner wrote “The salvation of the world is in man’s suffering.”  A part of us acknowledges the wisdom of this saying as we consider the great sacrifices many have made for the betterment of others, yet we know it isn’t enough.  The noblest efforts of our greatest men cannot begin to reconcile the great gulf between us and God brought about by our rebellion.  In the end, only the suffering of Jesus can save us, and our highest aspiration is to humbly accept the gift of grace and to live a life in grateful service.

The life of Jesus is not a monument to the past; it is an invitation to the fullness of our own futures.

 

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Philippians 3:12–14

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Art: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, 1590s, Studio of El Greco

Christ kneels in the centre; at the upper left an angel appears to him with a cup, a reference to his forthcoming Passion. In the background on the left are the sleeping apostlesPeter, James the Greater and John; on the right Judas approaches with soldiers.
The painting is a synthesis of varying accounts of the Agony in the Gospels and is probably a workshop replica of a painting in the Museum of Toledo (Ohio). There are also several authentic vertical versions of this composition.
 

Literature:  There are two ways of approaching the contemporary models. Concepts such as “sacrifice”, “ransom” and “satisfaction”, that is, aids to understanding employed by biblical and ancient thought that are now no longer intelligible, can be replaced by other concepts that are clearer to modern man. Alternatively, the attempt can be made to bridge the gulf that yawns wider and wider (up to Anselm and his successors) between the person and work of Jesus and the rest of mankind, contrary to the Fathers’ original intuition of the commercium, the union of God and man through the “exchange of places”. If both attempts are taken together, it should be possible to come up with a promising new approach that would present the original theologico-historical plan in a radical (retrospective) form. This would promote the most satisfactory reflection possible on the biblical themes we have enumerated.

Looking at the history of modern times, we are inclined to doubt whether these two new paths, each of which has led to appreciable individual results, can be said to converge automatically on a synthesis (and, in any case, such a synthesis, of its very nature, cannot and must not be a “system”). In fact, the two approaches seem to be essentially opposed. The first model, which aims to provide a new set of aids to understanding centering on the idea of Jesus’ solidarity with mankind, takes its bearings primarily from his humanity and his active ministry. The second model, which wants to follow up the commercium theme in a radical way and insist on full substitution, looks primarily at the Cross as interpreted by Paul: here the full Godhead of the person of Jesus is the decisive factor.

Like the ancient and medieval worlds, the modern world is quite aware, when it comes to contemplating the mystery of Christ, that it is circling around the center of the drama in which God and man are involved. Even in the purely human drama, the two themes concern central, dramatic situations. On the one hand, we have the kind of solidarity that goes the whole way—that is, to death—as at the end of Dostoyevsky’s Idiot or in King Lear; and, on the other hand, there is the representative suffering that is found (both in its religious and in its social aspect) in Euripides, which Faulkner and Camus (Requiem for a Nun) have convincingly portrayed in our own time.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, from Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: The Action, trans. Graham Harrison, vol. 4 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 266–267.

 

The Nature of Story by Glynn Young

Glynn Young

It’s the fall of 1985. I’m sitting in a classroom at Washington University in St. Louis, participating in a seminar for my master’s degree. This particular seminar is simply entitled “The Nature of Story.”

Of all the novels on the syllabus, the only one I’ve previously read is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The syllabus includes The Sound of the Fury by William Faulkner, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, and about eight other novels. As it so happens, the first novel we’re reading for the course is One Hundred Years of Solitude. I first read it in college when it was relatively new and all the rage, about the same time as The Lord of the Rings. I’ve dutifully read it again, and it’s a completely different experience from my first reading. This time, it almost seems like personal history.

The professor leading the seminar asks, in a casual, offhand way, “So, what did you think?” A short silence follows, until one student says, “It’s a ridiculous book. All this business about flying carpets and children sprouting pigs’ tails, well, it’s simply ludicrous. This is what they call magic realism?”

It seems most of the class agrees. We’re an unusual group; I’m the youngest of about 15 people; the oldest is the CEO of the local gas utility. No one had previously read the book except for me.

The discussion becomes a critical pile-on. Finally, the professor asks, “Did anyone actually enjoy it?”

I raise my hand and nod. “I grew up in a place and culture like Macondo,” I say. “It doesn’t seem alien or ludicrous at all. My grandmother and aunts and uncles told stories like this. I know we had flying carpets. And I’m sure there must have been a few kids in my neighborhood who had pigs’ tails.”

I look around the seminar table, and I see some surprise and even astonishment.

“Where did you grow up?” the professor asks.

“New Orleans,” I say.

“Ah,” he says, nodding, “the northern edge of the Caribbean culture. That makes sense. It’s Garcia Marquez’s culture, too.”

Part of what we learn that semester about the nature of story is that story speaks to us very differently than history or sociology or economics or political science. Inherent in the idea of story is something fundamental to our understanding of who we are, where we come from, how we grow up, what we experience, and what we accept as true. A myth can be just as true as a historical fact. In fact, a myth may be more powerful than a historical fact. Story and myth are the building materials of our worldviews, and they shape us in both known and subtle ways.

I’ve read novels since I was seven years old. And now I’m writing them. When I’m asked where the idea for a novel comes from, I can usually pinpoint a moment, an event, something someone said, or even a song (a song was the inspiration for my first novel).

But none of these things explains where the story comes from. The answer to that question is far more complex. It likely goes back to that big green book of fairy tales my mother read to me. It was that ninth-grade English teacher who taught us Great Expectations and made me fall in love with Dickens. It was my grandmother who worked in a cotton factory when she was five years old. Or my other grandmother who scrubbed floors in the big movie theaters in downtown New Orleans to keep her family fed. It was my great-grandfather who was a messenger boy for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. It was Inez the Crazy Woman who roamed the streets of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans and was every mother’s threat for misbehaving children. It was the list of births and deaths in the family Bible published in 1801, and all those names like Octavia, Cora Belle, and Jarvis.

And it was those flying carpets and children with pigs’ tails.

That’s the nature, and the power, of story.

 


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Glynn Young is the author of three novelsDancing PriestA Light Shining, and the newly published Dancing King, and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He is also an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by Annie Spratt via Unsplash. Used with permission.

https://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Solitude-Harper-Perennial-Classics/dp/0060883286/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Fury-Vintage-International-ebook/dp/B004JHYRT0/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/River-Runs-through-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B06X99WMNF/ref=sr_1_1

https://unsplash.com/photos/thI_CZAB0MY

 

 

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

In what might be the best country song ever written, Don Williams sings this verse:

“Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does
But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was
The smell of cape jasmine thru the window screen
John R. and the Wolfman kept me company
By the light of the radio by my bed
With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head”

What Do You Do With Good-ole Boys Like Me resonates with every southern man over 50 and most of the rest because it gets 51D8R4NZ2HLat the essence of our boyhood. The verse is important because it is informed by another tale of southern boyhood, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, who indeed whispers in our head.

When Wolfe died, William Faulkner said he was the greatest writer of their time.

Few have really read this book because it isn’t easy reading. It’s written in stream of consciousness style reminiscent of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Wolfe was criticized for his unapproachable style but remained unrepentant.  F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to him suggesting shorter novels, but Wolfe’s reply letter was 8 times longer than Fitzgerald’s.

Angel does, however get right at the marrow and rewards good ole boys willing to stick with it.  Wolfe’s title was almost Alone, Alone, borrowed, he said, “from the poem I like best, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; then it evolved to O, Lost!; finally, when his publisher asked for something more inspired, Wolfe went to Milton:

. . . Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurld,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.

Milton’s angel in Lycidas was St. Michael; the statue in Look Homeward, Angel was of a different sort, based on one that Wolfe’s father had purchased for his tombstone shop.  The actual Wolfe statue has been identified on the grave of the wife of a Methodist minister in the Asheville, North Carolina area, and is today a stop for the literary traveler.

When you finish this great book, then read You Can’t Go Home Again.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.