Pain: the Antidote to Suffering - Lent 2017
“In you LORD, I take refuge, How can you say to me, Bird, fly back to your mountain.” (Psalm 11:1) The psalmist knows the hill country to be a place of refuge for the Lord’s faithful. However, a careful reading of the Scriptures indicates in the experiences of Abraham, Moses, Elijah and very poignantly those of Peter, James and John, that the ascent to the mountain is a call to confront one’s inner pain. On a mountain in the land of Moriah Abraham must come face to face with the pain of losing the very son through whom the Promise is to be fulfilled. Moses, on Mount Sinai, must undergo the pain of seeing the Lord’s people lapse into unfaithfulness. Elijah fleeing from Jezebel is pained to the point of death. Peter, James and John, however, are naïve as they ascend Mount Tabor. Unfamiliar with the pain they are being called to experience, they think they have grasped the ultimate refuge as they behold the LORD in his glory. No wonder they stand exposed as they are enveloped by a sense of hurt, feeling let down by the Lord as he talks of his impending Suffering and Death when they come down from the mountain.
“There are many who are hurt, but few experience pain.” The intensity of pain is measureable; each of us have our own threshold of pain. It is the body’s own indicator that not all is well. The same holds true for psychological pain. Both are characteristically internal in their origin Suffering and the experience of hurt on the other hand have their origins outside of us. We often give people and events ‘landing rights” and with it engender a bruised ego that can only continue to be hurt. Stewed in our own inner suffering, we are unable to distinguish it from pain. The former carries with it the seeds of destruction; the latter the capacity for healing. The healing process of a wounded body is validated by the experience of pain. It is accelerated by an attitude of “acceptance” rather than one of struggle and denial. So too, our inner healing is hastened by an acceptance of our human frailty, as opposed to largely unsuccessful attempts to “violently” reform ourselves.
By revealing his glory on Mount Tabor, Jesus prefigures the transformation of the body that ensues if we are willing to endure the pain it entails. This is far from the masochistic tendency we harbour to browbeat our body into submission and to think, that in so doing we are identifying with the suffering Christ. The Lenten discipline we are called to observe is all about entering into Jesus’ pain of unrequited love. It is not about burdening ourselves with bearing the heaped insults of others that leave us embittered; it is not the repression and denial of the negative feelings we experience thinking that in so doing we are “purifying” ourselves”. Jesus teaches us that our bodies will be “transformed’ not that they will disintegrate and be destroyed. Process involves continuity, not annihilation. The Ego works towards the destruction of the body The selfless SELF within us promotes its transformation. There can be joy in pain, but no joy suffering. Joy makes pain endurable. The sweetness of sugar endures in the cane even as it is being crushed just as there is joy in the pains of childbirth. Fasting is the joy of forgoing earthly food simply because we have tasted something better. Almsgiving becomes the joy of self-giving. We are not sad and angry at our failed efforts to reform ourselves, but rather, having experienced the joy of being forgiven, are pained by our failure to love in return. The greater our experience of being forgiven, the greater the love we show in return. In this sense the experience of pain is the antidote to suffering. This paradigm shift is the progressive ‘death to self” that we experience within us as we are transformed into the image and likeness of the Risen Lord.
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