When Remembering Hurts: Part 2

There’s a verse in “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” that goes, “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.”  Sometime nearing New Years, I find that sentiment not entirely alien.

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Unwrapping the Gifts by Br. Curtis Almquist offers thoughtful readings for the twelve days between Christmas and the Epiphany.  In contrast to the marketing promises rampant in the uber-commercial Christmas season, Almquist raises up spiritual gifts that truly fulfill and satisfy, gifts like love, forgiveness, joy, hope and companionship.  The chapter on companionship comes along on the 9th day, right about when I find myself humming that particular verse of the aforementioned carol.

I have enjoyed this little book repeatedly for several years, but the first time I read it, I was in particularly ragged shape approaching day 9.  My husband had left me to handle our three pre-teens solo while he took a football trip with friends, and upon his return the seemingly unrelenting stream of requests and complaints had me in a state of mind for retreat.  On the verge of tears, I barricaded myself in our bathroom and turned on the shower in hopes of being left alone long enough to read the short chapter.  I was not especially receptive, however.  Companionship was the last thing I wanted at that particular juncture.

Imagine my relief, then, when the company Almquist served up was that of Mary, mother of Jesus.  As one chosen to carry an inconceivably great mission, she knew fear.  As a low born unwed pregnant teenager, she knew disgrace and the humiliation of being misunderstood.  As a courageous companion to her son in his suffering, she knew grief.  When I pondered how profound her suffering, my woes seemed small.

Moreover, when I pondered her suffering, it revealed itself to be on the very same ground as her extraordinary blessing.  The inextricable interlacing of suffering with blessing that Mary represents opened my heart in that moment to the blessing of children tangled up with my suffering exhaustion.  Without even leaving the sanctuary of my bathroom, spending time with Mary that morning soothed my angst and filled my heart with gratitude for the people I call family.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God: Pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death.

Join the conversation.  How do you encounter the interlacing of blessing and suffering in your journey?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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When Remembering Hurts: Part 1

Studies on American consumerism and happiness reveal the happiness we gain from buying stuff is short lived.  No sooner have we acquired stuff than our attention turns to new stuff.  By contrast, spending on experience–a gathering of friends or an act of kindness–has a longer lasting effect because we can remember the experience and feel happy all over again.

The converse is also true.  Remembering can hurt.  Shining a flashlight on ourselves and seeing the wrong turns we have made can be painful.  Painful aspects of introspection arise from remembering upsetting events, facing the consequences of our choices, and allowing ourselves to experience compassion for those who were hurt.  If you find yourself approaching introspection with some foreboding for any of these reasons, don’t shoulder it alone.  Reach for hope in companions.

“Con dos, no peso un muerto,” is a Spanish expression that means, “With two, even death isn’t heavy.”  Scripture offers companions.

Spend some time in Isaiah 53.  Isaiah here foretells of one to whom the Lord is revealed but who goes without any form of majesty.  He endures astonishing rejection and injustice.  While Jews see a suffering servant representative of the house of Israel in this prophesy, Christians see Jesus (an interpretation that does not agree with the context of the preceding songs of Isaiah but is suggested in the gospel of Luke nonetheless).  Both interpretations find a fellow sufferer.  The injustice borne by Jews through history may put one’s own suffering into sharp relief.  If we can appreciate the juxtaposition of extremes that the person of Jesus embodied—champion of justice treated unjustly, condemned by those he came to save, son of all-powerful God born powerless—we find someone well acquainted with pain.

The Psalter is a fantastic companion for walking through painful memories.  This book of poetry offers words to capture the full range of human emotion and experience.  You will have no difficulty finding verses that voice your ill-will for the one who wronged you.  My personal favorite is Psalm 63.  Here is the ending:

9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be food for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

Visualizing a group of jackals sitting around, gnawing on a pile of my tormentor’s bones with little teeth marks in them was a salve to my wounds during a painful time.  When you find a Psalm that gives voice to your emotion, pray it with vigor.  The honest exhortation to God will give you some release.

Join the conversation.  Have you found spiritual companions in unlikely places?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.