Tag Archives: suffering

Suffering and Joy

29 Apr
Photo via Flickr user denisedaysmith

Photo via Flickr user denisedaysmith

In her essay “Joy” from The New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith distinguishes between pleasure and joy. Eating a pineapple popsicle, she says, is pure pleasure. Joy is much different. “The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?” She walks through moments of pure joy in her life, and ends with reflecting on the fierce love she has for her partner, children and pets, tying mourning to joy. For we lose the ones we love, or are lost to them. When we love, we risk the pain that comes with the loss of love. We risk the pain that comes with the joy.

It hurts just as much as it is worth. What an arrangement. Why would anyone accept such a crazy deal? Surely if it were sane and reasonable we would every time choose a pleasure over a joy, as animals themselves sensibly do.

It can be easy to talk about pleasure, think about it, seek it out. It’s easy to post pictures of pleasurable food or an enjoyable vacation on social media and comment on other people’s pleasure, too until we think that pleasure should be the focus, the stuff life is made of. Joy, pure joy, is a different thing. Recently, I have been struck by how much love can hurt. It’s agony. I love my little boy so intensely, for example, that it’s actually painful. He is my joy.

It hurts as much as it is worth. That line came to me, again, on Sunday. We invited a young man named Adam to share his story with the youth at church. He is a person who has a tendency toward depression. For a stretch a time before he sought treatment, he had suicidal thoughts daily. He explained the feeling of depression so vividly and said, “We have to talk about this. We have to figure out how to admit to each other that we suffer. We all suffer.” He used to spend more time than not unhappy, until it seemed that exiting life was the only real option to get relief. Slowly, with help, he was able to admit that life hurt, but it was worth sticking around for. The room became a thin space. Folks cried. We heard him. This is a man who knows suffering and joy.

When we dare to be alive in this life, we will know joy and suffering, love and loss. Church is one community I’ve found where I can share my suffering and joy. For that, I am grateful.

Stations of the Cross

3 Apr
via flickr user MIKECNY

via flickr user MIKECNY

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing about central pillars of Catholic practice during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This week I consider Stations of the Cross, which, while not a pillar of Lenten practice, is a popular devotional practice among many Catholics. Admittedly, growing up, I was not a big fan of the Stations of the Cross. On a practical level, it seemed long and boring. As I got older, I also objected to the focus on the suffering and death of Jesus. It seemed a bit too macabre for my taste; I preferred to hear about the angry Jesus who overturned tables in the temple, the compassionate Jesus who healed and helped those on the margins of the society, and the resurrected Jesus who appeared to his followers to shore up their strength and commission them to spread his message.

So in the spirit of renewal this Lent, I am trying to think about the Stations of the Cross in a different way. What is a station for? A station is place where you wait, like a train station. So Stations of the Cross are places where we wait, where we take time to reflect on the path of Jesus as he went to the cross. Like other practices of Lent, praying the Stations of the Cross causes us to use our time differently—to slow down and to reflect on distinct moments of Jesus’ journey to the cross—and to think about ourselves and our place in the world differently. What does it mean for my life that Jesus endured suffering, in order that he might die and be resurrected? What does it mean for my life that living as he did resulted in Jesus being crucified on a cross like a common criminal? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are necessary ones as we strive to learn from the mystery of Jesus Christ. In our considering of them, we may find that, like Lazarus in this week’s Gospel, knowing Jesus results in the burial clothes that tie our bodies and shield our eyes as we live in the death of this world are removed so that we can live a new life with Christ.

Stations of the Cross also can be called the Way of the Cross. It is one of the ways that we can fulfill the injunction by Jesus in the Gospels to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him (Mark 8:34, Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23). Walking and praying the Stations of the Cross gives us a chance to go on a pilgrimage without leaving home, as we follow in the steps of Jesus. And while it is not helpful to focus only on the suffering and death of Jesus, neither is it good to completely gloss over the crucifixion and the events that led to it. We all know that there is a dark side in the world (and in ourselves, if we are honest); odd as it may sound, attending to Jesus’ passion can give us hope as we face the darkness in our lives and in our world. It also teaches us lessons about courage, patience, and trusting in a God who promises to deliver us from all evil.

To participate in the Stations of the Cross, individuals or groups remember fourteen scenes from the passion of Christ, that is, the suffering of Christ that ended in his death on the cross. Frequently, these scenes are depicted artistically—carved in stone, painted on wood—and arranged at intervals around a church building. Those praying the stations walk in the steps of Jesus, stopping at each scene to remember what happened to Christ and to say a prayer. There are also various online resources for individuals to use if they want to reflect on the Stations at home; click here for one I really like.

There are three things to remember if you are going to pray the Stations on your own. First, it is important to include a time of meditation at each Station, a time during which you reflect on what happened to Christ. Second, it is important to try to see ourselves mirrored in Christ and to consider how each Station may have application in our own lives. Ask yourself, what might this Station have to teach me today? What is it saying to me? What is it helping me to see or do differently? And finally, there are no set prayers that must be said at each Station. You can use prayers that you are familiar with (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be), prayers someone else has written for reflection on the Stations, or prayers you come up with yourself. This gives you the freedom to interact with the Stations, to make them part of your own prayer practice.

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