Tag: Suffering

A Suffering That Leads to Rest

 

We went to a church in my old hood Sunday. It was in the backyard of the pastor’s house, set with a mish-mash of folding chairs and patio tables, including one with coffee, kid drinks, and other treats. I’m guessing there were around 20 or so people there, another dozen or two online via Zoom, and a kid’s group doing its thing on another side of the house.

Why am I telling you this? At this point, I have no idea. Things usually become clear at around the 600-word mark. We will see.

I grew up in the south area of the city and, given my unsupervised freedom, I regularly (and without an inkling of fear that can only be born of wisdom), walked into or came close to taunting my own ruin via treacherous situations involving criminal types and other hoodlums who were usually up to no good thing. I did not make it out of there unscathed.

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If you’ve ever listened to “Rocky Raccoon” and wished for a longer story, Gun and a Hotel Bible could be the film for you. One of the two characters is Gideon’s Bible, brought to life by actor and writer Daniel Floren. I am the uncle of Alicia Joy LeBlanc, one of the film’s two directors. […]

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I’m Just Fine in Here

 

Many years ago, my husband and I were invited to a small dinner party by friends of ours. We didn’t know the other people who attended, but I had heard of one of them. Her name was Peggy. She was a minister at the Church of Religious Science in Huntington Beach, CA and was living with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. At this point, she was confined to a wheelchair and was there with her husband. Someone who knew her but hadn’t seen her in a while asked her how she was doing. She answered, speaking with some difficulty, “I’m just fine in here.” I felt her smile and her face was glowing. I was so moved by the peace and joy she had found.

* * * *

At this time of year, Jews are preparing for the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. One of my Torah study partners shared that there are many customs that can be practiced in this month of Elul and I wasn’t aware of them, so I did a little homework. Here is part of what I learned :

Quote of the Day: Transcending our Illusions

 

“We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place.” — Daniel Boorstin

Trying to get an honest perspective on our lives can be a most difficult venture. You’ll notice that I didn’t call for our seeing reality clearly; every single person’s reality is unique to himself/herself. In fact, I’d argue that there is no objective reality, at least not one that we can perceive and agree upon.

Instead of understanding that elusive reality, we could be working to make the world a better place; but we spend a great deal of our time focused inward, trying to perfect ourselves, freeing ourselves from our “vices or our weaknesses.” Frankly, my vices are fairly harmless; a glass of wine with dinner or a chocolate chip cookie afterward. And I rarely focus on my weaknesses (at least that I’m aware of), because they are just as innocuous at this point in my life.

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“Now, more than ever…”  I hate that phrase. But here it is apt. In an era bombarded by absurdities that make reality almost impossible to satirize, we are especially able to understand the value of experience. When daily news, attitudes, and behaviors venture beyond what one could have believed possible only a decade or two […]

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A Dark Echo of Christian Martrydom

 

Throughout millennia, suffering and sacrifice have always been respected. For example, Simeon the Stylite lived on ever increasingly high pillars alone in the desert to devote himself to G-d. Hindus have a long tradition of torturing their body to advance the strength of their soul. Buddhists have similar traditions of starving themselves to death. (though that’s controversial in Buddhism.)* Shia Islam seems to focus on flagellation and hitting yourself on the head with a sword (Grisly imagery contained in this link.

In animistic traditions, the Cheyenne and Crow tribe practiced a ritual known as the sundance where they pierce their skin and attach themselves to a tall pole. The list goes on; sacrificing your bodily health to attain spiritual prowess is a pretty normal thing.

Quote of the Day: Nothing Lasts

 

“We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off-limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.” — Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

 At a rational level, we all know that we will eventually die. But it seems like a far off ending to our lives. The fact is, though, that everything dies. We can’t hold on to anything forever: relationships end, flowers die, cars end up in junkyards, no matter how often we try to save them.

Motorcycle Accidents

 

Last summer I was browsing through our towns’ police department Facebook pages because sometimes I like to see a little of what is going on in that circle.  It’s very limited, but sometimes they have useful traffic or fire updates, and it’s interesting to see what crimes might be mentioned. One incident that stood out to me was the death of a motorcyclist on one of the main roads. The driver of a pickup had changed lanes into him and knocked him into a box truck. The details were sparse, as you would expect from a simple Facebook post, but the motorcyclist died, and it was hinted as likely the fault of the pickup driver.

Yesterday, I volunteered to be in the church nursery as I had been sick on my normal day and it just so happened that my husband’s aunt had also volunteered and were placed in the same room. I haven’t seen her for a while because she just retired and has been off to places like Kenya, the Philippines, and Missouri. She is one of those involved, social ladies that knows everyone and is generally up to speed on the happenings of our cities. I don’t know how people do that.*

Quote of the Day: Sacrificing Virgins to Volcanoes

 

“All around us, humans are not change agents, but victims buffeted by impersonal deities who must be appeased through acts of sacrifice. In principle, there is no distinction between the island barbarian who sacrifices virgins to the volcano and the modern American who self-sterilizes to ‘save the planet.’ Both are expressions of the human desire to suffer in order to appease a larger, all-important ‘force.’ And both are ways in which otherwise intelligent people adopt pagan worldviews in order to come to peace with their place in the world.” — Shaya Cohen (aka @iwe), The Torah Manifesto

The world is filled with people who wear their helplessness, victimization, and virtue-signaling as badges of honor. They have given up their free will as their contribution to the myth that the earth is falling apart and only through their sacrifices can it be saved. Their growing abundance and success, instead of filling them with gratitude and motivation, overwhelm them with guilt and teeth-gnashing. They elevate their impact on the planet so that they end up becoming their own gods, thinking that they can make the world better by giving up those things they have earned and created. Their surrender to true Power is not possible, since they have made themselves into powerless deities.

Instead, they can choose to leave the mythical cave of suffering and safety, and emerge into an existence that feeds their power and creativity, improving the world and serving others.

Winning through Ricochet – and Knowing What You’ve Lost

 

Ah, collagen. The most abundant protein in animals. Great for cooking into rich sauces – and glue (hence the name). It gives structure to mammals’ extracellular space. Your skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, mucous membranes, cartilage, bones, and teeth all depend on collagen for strength. When our collagen lets us down, we can expect trouble.

Several diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis to scurvy, are connective-tissue diseases. Several attack our abundant collagen specifically. Sometimes, though, collagen weakens not because it’s under attack, but because it never formed right to begin with. Several genes have been identified as causing Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), congenitally weakened cartilage, and several genes remain to be discovered. The worst types of EDS are super-weird, and super-scary. Your silly-putty skin could be so loose and stretchy that it’s obvious from birth you’d be a freak-show star, pulling your neck skin over your face for strangers’ amusement. Or maybe your joints dislocate so easily you’d join the circus as a contortionist, disarticulating yourself for cold, hard cash. Or maybe EDS causes your organs to explode, far less marketable but still super-scary. Many of us, if we’ve heard of EDS at all, have more reason to think “circus freak” than “subtle.”

Oct 25 Fear: Unstory – the Greatest Horror Story of them All

 

A man briefly leaves his pregnant wife to fly to his dying mother, a mother who endured one last round of chemo not in any hope of remission, but merely to eke out a few more months in order to see her grandchild born. His mother dies two hours before he arrives. He stays for her funeral, missing his own child’s birth by a few hours, too. A youngster complaining of “arthritis” is dismissed because his range of motion is large, not small. His complaint thus “disproven”, he gets on with life, or tries to. Decades later, body gratuitously dilapidated and his stoicism rendered meaningless, he learns his flexibility was the one objective clue that, if heeded, could have prevented a world of hurt – even kept him off disability – but now it’s too late. Albert Camus dies in a car crash – with a train ticket in his pocket: he was supposed to take the train, but his publisher persuaded him at the last minute to go by car instead. His death, while fittingly comedic for an absurdist, existentialist Frenchman, is not “meaningful” otherwise – it’s only distinguished by its contingency, by how easily it might not have happened.

Suffering needn’t be particularly intense to seem intensely meaningless. Even suffering that’s just big enough to be unsafe to ignore, but still too “small” to explain, may qualify. There are many forms of suffering that hurt the body, but it is suffering without a story that hurts the soul. And that’s where the story of Job comes in, because Job’s story is the unstory – the story that happens when there is no story. Job’s story is that nothing – not even God – takes away life’s absurdity – life’s refusal to fit our narratives. Perhaps it’s even God’s greater story that makes absurdity possible.

The Night of Fire

 

Blaise Pascal, mathematician, scientist, inventor, and philosopher, a man who from the age of 16 had been making historic contributions to mathematics and the physical sciences, who, despite a sickly constitution and a capacity for intense abstraction nonetheless oversaw the material construction of his experiments and inventions with great zest, was barely past 30 when saw something unexpected one raw November night. He saw fire. The vision of it so branded him that he sewed the record he made of it, his Memorial, into his coat, carrying it with him the rest of his life:

Memorial, Pascal

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I recently finished reading Jason Evert’s book, Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves. It was a gift from a Catholic friend and a much needed balm on the psychic wounds opened by the turmoil of Francis’s papacy and politics generally. Saint John Paul is to Catholicism what Reagan is to conservatism – a […]

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I have to say I am a bit heartbroken over Scalia’s passing.  Antonin Scalia was a personal hero of mine.  As an Italian-American and a conservative and a Catholic I was so proud of him.  It is my perception that until Scalia hit the national scene, Italian-Americans and Catholics were predominantly center-left on the political […]

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If Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness? -Christopher Hitchens One of the philosophic questions that have caused all sorts of consternation is the problem of suffering and its related issue, evil.  The two topics are often handled together, and I grant you there can be a […]

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