F. Neil Folks: Great love and great suffering – Part 1
Great love and great suffering were created by God to help us break down the door created from our own ego defenses, crush our dual thinking and open us up to mystery. It should not be any surprise that the Christian icon of redemption is a human being offering love from a crucified position.
It takes great love to break down the ego controls in our life so that we become open to a whole new way of life. It makes us willing to risk everything, hold nothing back. It, at least temporarily, helps us overcome our terrible sense of aloneness, separateness and fear. Barriers come down so we can see things inside a new kind of wholeness and happiness for a while.
It requires a long period of time. To keep the heart open long-term, and for us to remain permanently “in love,” we need something else. We need some level of mysticism, whether nature-based, consciousness-based, or God-based (or Great Mystery).
Great suffering opens us in a different way. It makes us go against our will – which is what makes it suffering. It has to break down our defended state of mind. It has to create unknowing – not an absence of thought, but a very clear attentiveness to the moment. Unknowing (or a hint of the future that we cannot perceive) is not a conscious effort or technique but letting go. Letting go puts us into a state of readiness to receive. How do we get there?
Yes, how do we get to the letting go part? It requires accepting our situation as being what it is, although we will invariably go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, resignation and (hopefully) on to acceptance. Your suffering might feel wrong, terminal, absurd, unjust, impossible, physically painful, or just outside of our comfort zone. We will many times in the course of our day run into things that will take away our sense of empowerment, leaving us with a sense of being out of control. We must be able to have a proper attitude toward suffering. If we don’t, always remember that if we do not transform our pain, we will surely transmit it. We live in a society that is pain/suffering avoidant – we just do not know how to deal with these body emotions and feelings and therefore, it makes it harder to transform ourselves. We were never taught that pain, suffering, loss and death are natural to life, as well.
The suffering can lead us in two directions. It can make us very bitter and shut us down. Or it can make us wise, compassionate and utterly open, a softening of the heart.
The deep suffering can take us to the edge of our inner resources, “I can not take any more God!” where we “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31) even against our will.
We all pray for the grace of the second path of softening and opening. In the Lord’s Prayer there is a line that says “deliver us from evil.” I think what’s being referred to here is we are not asking to avoid suffering, but it may be asking God to hold onto us when the big trials come, and they always will; that we don’t turn bitter or blaming – an evil that leads to so many other evils – perfect grounds for scapegoating.
I find as I make my walk through life with all its difficulties and unfairness that I catch my shadow self trying to take over. It wants the easy way out – let’s not go down that path – it hurts too much.
As I age and gain wisdom from education and experience, I have learned that facing the interior conflicts and moral failures, undergoing rejection, abandonment and humiliations, experiencing any abuse or limitation (such as I am now in losing my red-neck macho image through heart and hip problems), are all gateways into deeper consciousness and the flowering of the spirit.
These experiences and experiences that I have gained from others I cherish greatly from working as the volunteer chaplain at the Moffat County Jail and chaplain for the Hospice and Community Health Service at the Visiting Nurse Association have taught me the value of the graces that God has given me.
I’ve learned that life is difficult, it is unfair, and yet it is beautiful. I had to step outside of myself, learn I’m not the center of the cosmos and learn about the Kingdom of Heaven from the inside out, not outside in. I am part of something so much greater than me. I have moved from an either/or position (which creates division or control in everything) to the position of both and accepting that everything belongs.
As Fr. Rohr so eloquently states it “Great love has the potential to open the heart space and then the mind space. Great suffering has the potential to open the mind space and then the heart space. Eventually, both spaces need to be opened and this allows for non-dual thinking.”
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