Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thoughts about pain

I have been reading "An Altar in the World" by Barbara Brown Taylor.  An amazing little book on some unusual spiritual practices.  One of the things she talks about in her book is pain, whether it physical or emotional.  

She makes the point that pain is not something we can avoid. The more we try to run from it,
the more we find it popping up around every corner.  She also notes that it is not neutral.

"Pain is provocative.  Pain pushes people to the edge, causing them to
ask fundamental questions such as "Why is this happening?"  and "How can this be fixed?"  Pain brings
out the best in people along iwh the worst.  Pain strips away all the illusions required to maintain the status quo.  Pain begs for change ..."

She ends by saying... "Pain makes theologians of us all"
Pain changes a lot.  The way we think about ourselves, the world, and yes, even God.
If I look back on my life I can see that often my "growth spurts" have happened when I have been moving 
through, dealing with, painful things.
I saw my father grow amazingly, from a spiritual perspective, as he struggled with terminal cancer.

How do we make the practice of feeling pain a spiritual practice.  Obviously a first step is to accept pain as part of life, and move through it, rather than trying to run away from it.  A second step is to change the triangle that is us, God, and pain.  When in pain, Taylor suggests,  we bargain with God, beg God for help, call God's honor into question, challenge God.  What we need to do she says is turn away from the God in charge of pain removal toward the God who stays with us through the pain no matter what we say and do.

Other things that help. Paying attention to the pain, and how that alters one's perspective.  Rituals of comfort, such as communion, and generosity, in the sense that we put ourselves with "generous people" whom we love, and who will be with us and love us.

I don't have all the answers about pain.  But on this morning, as I look at the snow and winter looms, 
as do state budget cuts and other struggles, I am going to try to engage in the "practice" of feeling pain, and changing my relationship with it.  In the end, much else may change as well, including my heart.

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