I have several friends and people in my extended family who live with chronic pain. Pain that grabs you by the throat and takes your breath away. Pain that is so unrelenting that it can telescope your parameters as to what is possible, to the point that all one sees and knows is the pain. For some of us the pain is emotional for others it is physical. For some a combination of the two.
Richard Rohr the Franciscan monk and author writes that such pain can be the door to facing tough spiritual questions that we otherwise avoid. Questions such as: Is there really a God? If God is good and all powerful then why am I or the people I love suffering?
Such questions Rohr suggest arise when we are faced with difficulties and nothing is more challenging than chronic pain. I’ve known some people who have wrestled with such questions only to walk away from their faith. I’ve known others who have found meaning and strength in their spiritual life, giving them strength and hope.
In the classic book by Rabbi Harold Kushner ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’, Kushner reflects out of his own pain on the nature of God and the unfairness of life. He wrote following the death of his son Aaron who died in adolescence after a life long illness.
Kushner writes: “I’ve never received a good answer as to why God allows bad things to happen to good people. But I do know where God is when bad things happen.” For Kushner God showed up in the kindness of friends who didn’t give platitudes but simply listened. God showed up when meals were brought by neighbors and loving prayers were voiced by people he and his wife didn’t know. And, God showed up in a deep-seated awareness that he and his family including his son, were being carried through the most painful of times.
Can this awareness be proven, quantified or measured? No. But for Kushner this awareness of that loving presence he calls God, is a real as the death of his son.
For Kushner and so many others this awareness of not being alone is a source of hope. Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits strands of light to make their way to us, even when we still stand in darkness; but hope also reveals a landscape beyond us into which we can live and move and have our being.
For those who follow the Christian calendar, December is the season of Advent when believers and seekers move from darkness towards light. December 16th is the beginning of Hanukkah in the Jewish calendar a festival of light in the midst of a dark time.
My prayer for all who journey with pain that ‘you be graced with moments of hope that remind you that you are not alone and that you are loved’. May this awareness illuminate our path.