To suffer through to joy

Occasionally when I read I stumble across a phrase which stops me in my tracks this is one of them:

‘The capacity to suffer through to joy’

It is profoundly resonant for me. We cannot avoid pain in life. It happens. Sometimes pain is simply to be endured and sooner or later it begins to dissipate.

I don’t want to say at all that all suffering must somehow be a good thing. I don’t believe that. I think we should do what we can alleviate suffering wherever we can.

But occasionally there are those excruciating circumstances which require attendance. In almost all of these kinds of times it is so tempting to try to avoid the pain. And yet, if we have the courage to stay with it, sooner or later something new emerges. Something which would not have been possible without the crucible of the pain.

It is these moments which are truly transformational. It is in these moments that our real hope lies. It requires discernment to figure out what kind of pain we are in. We should try to remove as much of the superfluous pain that we can. When turns out that the pain is actually essential, then we dare to embrace it rather than resist it, it can and it usually will give way to joy in the end.

For those who want to find the origin of the phrase – authorship belongs to Holmes Rolston III in a paper entitled Kenosis and Nature – you can find it here. 

The power of a question

Someone I am enjoying getting to know ended our last encounter by saying ‘Next time we meet, I’d like to know what you think about x’.

I met her again recently and after we had caught up, she asked me the question again.

I had thought about it before we met, and I didn’t have a coherent response. I knew my gut response, but I didn’t actually have a real answer. We spoke a little. I gave my gut response, she explained her own position – different and not different to mine. Similar in essence, but we come from quite different viewpoints.

It was only as I was driving home that I was finally able to put into words what was at stake for me. It may not make any sense at all to anyone else, but I understand my gut response now.

All because of a question, and the willingness of have a conversation.

My position isn’t set. Now that I understand my driver, I can engage with the same question again at a deeper level. Maybe the position will hold, maybe it won’t.

I don’t think the actual position is nearly as important as the willingness to explore with a spirit of discernment.

Salt of the earth

There is a verse in Matthew’s gospel:

‘You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless’

I don’t think I had ever really spent any time thinking about this. I presumed the metaphorical reading to be fair.

But I was doing a lectio divina on this passage yesterday when it struck me that reading with my chemist lens offers a new spin.

Sodium chloride is sodium chloride is sodium chloride. Salt can’t lose its saltiness. You can add weird flavour to it (something reasonably common in South Africa that I just hate), but even then, as a good chemist I can extract the pure salt from the horrible mix, just give me a little time.

Salt can’t lose its saltiness. And we can’t lose the love of God. We cannot lose the dignity and inherent value we have simply by being a human.