Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in his arms.
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same understanding Father who cares for
you today will take care of you then and every day.
He will either shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
“Experienced mountaineers have a quiet, regular, short step–on the level it looks petty; but then this step they keep up, on and on as they ascend, whilst the inexperienced townsman hurries along, and soon has to stop, dead beat with the climb . . . . Such an expert mountaineer, when the thick mists come, halts and camps out under some slight cover brought with him, quietly smoking his pipe, and moving on only when the mist has cleared away . . . . You want to grow in virtue, to serve God, to love Christ? Well,you will grow in and attain to these things if you will make them a slow and sure, an utterly real, a mountain step-plod and ascent, willing to have to camp for weeks or months in spiritual desolation, darkness and emptiness at different stages in your march and growth. All demand for constant light, for ever the best–the best to your own feeling, all attempt at eliminating or minimizing the cross and trial, is so much soft folly and puerile trifling.” (Baron Friedrich von Hügel)
We’ve all received it personally gift-wrapped by well-meaning friends, caring loved ones, and kind strangers. It usually comes delivered with the most beautiful of intentions; a buffer of hope raised in the face of the unimaginably painful things we sometimes experience in this life.
It’s a close, desperate lifeline thrown out to us when all other words fail:
Everything happens for a reason.
I’ve never had a tremendous amount of peace with the sentiment. I think it gives the terrible stuff too much power, too much poetry; as if there must be nobility and purpose within the brutal devastation we may find ourselves sitting in. In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of The Greater Plan that this suffering all fits into.
Chris Picco should have been singing “Happy Birthday,” to his newborn son, Lennon.
But Lennon’s birthday was a somber one. On November 8, 2014, Chris’ wife of seven years, Ashley, passed away suddenly in her sleep. She was 24 weeks pregnant. The doctors who had fought to save her life turned their attention to Lennon, who was born via emergency C-section 16 weeks earlier than planned.
Chris, a worship leader in Loma Linda, California, lost his beloved wife and welcomed his newborn son in the same day. In the face of such an enormous tragedy, Chris did the unthinkable: He sang.
Then, after only four days of life, Lennon joined his mother in Heaven. And Chris used his voice again, only this time, it was at the funeral for his wife and son.
His beautiful rendition of, “My Father’s World” shows the power of God to bring people closer together, even through tragedy.
“It does sometimes seem almost unbelievable that the soul of man can pass through so many devastating experiences and yet not be devastated. The explanation lies in such words as these: ‘He knoweth the way that I take’ (Job 23.10).” (Amy Carmichael)
I just discovered Stephen Winter’s blog, Adventures in Living, where he writes about The Lord of the Rings. Just starting to delve, but here is a treasure:
Journeying in the Dark Places
Anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings will know that journeys through dark places play an important part in the story. In order to become king Aragorn must journey the Paths of the Dead and lead a fell army in order to overcome the Corsairs of Umbar at Pelargir. Frodo and Sam must journey through the utter dark of Shelob’s Lair in order to enter Mordor and carry the Ring to the fires of Orodruin. And the Fellowship journey through the mines of Moria in order to find a way from the west to the east of The Misty Mountains, the greatest mountain range of Middle earth.
I did not use the word, “must” when speaking of this last journey because it is debated vigorously by the company. Boromir is entirely set against taking this way through the ancient kingdom of the Dwarves, now long abandoned, and argues his case with vigour. “I will not go…not unless the vote of the whole company is against me.” Legolas does not wish to go either and the hobbits are simply afraid of this journey in the dark. Gandalf is sure that it is the only way but Aragorn warns him, “It is not of the Ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware!”
But in the end there is another, “must” that determines their course of action. Their camp is attacked by wargs, the wolves, the “hounds of Sauron”, and in order to escape them they make for the doors of Moria. And when they get to the doors there is one more “must”. The company is attacked by a foul creature in the waters that guard the gate and are only able to escape it by entering the mine with the doors shattered behind them. They now have only one way out. They must journey some days through the darkness and all the perils that might be concealed there.
None of us willingly choose such dark journeys but the great spiritual traditions teach their necessity if we are to find our true selves. In the Christian tradition is the dark journey of Holy Week that must be taken if we are to come, fully alive, to Easter Sunday. The intention of this week is to remind us of this reality at one point in each year; the reality being that it is a journey that none of us can ultimately avoid, there is a “must” about it. Our fear when we begin such a journey is that there is no certainty that we will come safely to the other side. The words inscribed over the gates of hell in Dante’s Infernocome to mind here, “Abandon all hope all you that enter here.” The temptation that assails us in all dark journeys is the temptation to despair. Dante shows that there is a way through and that is to go boldly if fearfully into its very heart. And as he journeys through hell he sees signs everywhere that it has been harrowed by Christ who entered the dark in order to defeat it and set its prisoners free if they wished to come with him.
The Fellowship “must” take this journey if they are to some safely to the other side of the mountains and for one member it will be a very dark journey indeed. For him above all this journey will be both terrible and yet also a wonderfultransformation. If when we “must” make our journeys we can take them with the same bold faith it will lead to our transformation too. We too will become “fully alive” and our true selves.
Is it just me, or do temptations increase during Lent? And what to do with them? I think we all can be afraid of temptations. Our Pope Emeritus suggests a simple way to deal with them:
“. . . to a disciple who expressed the desire to discover ‘the causes of the different temptations that had assailed him’, Barsanufius replied: ‘Brother John, do not be afraid of the temptations that arise against you to put you to the test, do not be determined in trying to understand what it is about; rather cry out the name of Jesus: “Jesus, help me!” And he will hear you because ‘the Lord is near to all who call upon him.’ Do not be discouraged, run with ardor and you will reach your end in Christ Jesus, our Lord!”
And these words of the ancient Father are also valid for us. In our difficulties, problems, temptations, we must not simply engage in a theoretical reflection from whence do they come? — but must react positively, invoking the Lord, maintaining a living contact with the Lord. Beyond that, we must cry out the name of Jesus: ‘Jesus, help me!’ ANd we may be sure that he listens to us, as he is near to those who seek him. Let us not be discouraged; rather let us run with ardor–as this Father says–and we too will reach life, Jesus, the Lord.” (Benedict XVI)
All of you who feel heavily the weight of the cross, you who are poor and abandoned, you who weep, you who are persecuted for justice, you who are ignored, you the unknown victims of suffering, take courage. You are the preferred children of the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of hope, happiness and life. You are the brothers of the suffering Christ, and with Him, if you wish, you are saving the world.
This is the Christian science of suffering, the only one which gives peace. Know that you are not alone, separated, abandoned or useless. You have been called by Christ and are His living and transparent image.
Sound like something from Pope Francis? Wrong. This is an excerpt from the Second Vatican Council closing speeches. There are some things in the Church that just do not change.
Jerry Sitter, in his outstanding book on loss, A Grace Disguised, writes about the sudden loss of his wife, his daughter, and his mother, all in one tragic car accident. We all suffer loss and Jerry writes so well about what is common to all of us in our losses. Here is one sampling:
Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness. Loss strips us of the props we rely on for our well-being. It knocks us off our feet and puts us on our backs. In the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves.
But in coming to the end of ourselves, we can also come to the beginning of a vital relationship with God. Our failures can lead us to grace and to a profound spiritual awakening. This process occurs frequently with those who suffer loss. It often begin when we face our own weaknesses and realize how much we take favorable circumstances for granted. When loss deprives us of those circumstances, our anger, depression, and ingratitude expose the true state of our souls, showing us how small we really are. We see that our identity is largely external, not internal.
Finally, we reach the point where we begin to search for a new life, one that depends less on circumstances and more on the depth of our souls. That, in turn, opens us to new ideas and perspectives, including spiritual ones. We feel the need for something beyond ourselves, and it begins to dawn o nus that reality may be more than we once thought it to be. We begin to perceive hints of the divine, and our longing grows. To our shock and bewilderment, we discover that there is a Being in the universe who, despite our brokenness and sin, loves us fiercely. In coming to the end ourselves, we have come to the beginning of our true and deepest selves. We have found the One whose love gives shape to our being.
Praying for you, that through whatever loss you are experiencing right now, that you might know the fierce love of God for you.