Category Archives: Suffering

The Lenten Writings: hope unseen

What is hope?

It is a presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks.

It is a hunch

that the overwhelming brutality of facts

that oppress and repress is not the last word. It is a suspicion

that reality is more complex

than realism wants us to believe and that the frontiers of the possible

are not determined by the limits of the actual and that in a miraculous and unexpected way life is preparing the creative events

which will open the way to freedom and resurrection…. The two, suffering and hope, live from each other. Suffering without hope

produces resentment and despair, hope without suffering

creates illusions, naivete, and drunkenness…. Let us plant dates

even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret discipline.

It is a refusal to let the creative act

be dissolved in immediate sense experience

and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren. Such disciplined love

is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged.

They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.”

Source: “Tomorrow’s Children” by Ruben Aves. from Hijos de Maoana, by Rubem Alves. Salamanca, Spain: Ediciones Sigueme, 1976.

Hope is a single drop left in the center of the flowers after the rain. It is the courage that says I will speak in the face of oppression and violence. It is a flower striped by Creator. It is daring to step, putting one foot in front of the other into the swirling unknown. It is a cloud edged with purple and gilded with gold. It is finding a voice for those who have no voice. It is planting seeds, knowing that I will not see the outcome.

It is my reality. I live into hope unseen.


The Lenten Writings: Kindness


By Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept

     him alive.

Before you know kindness as

     the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as

     the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that

     makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day

     to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you


like a shadow or a friend.

The Lenten Writings: Mercy

To lie back under the tallest oldest trees. How far the stems rise, rise

before ribs of shelter


To live in the mercy of God. The complete sentence too adequate, has no give.

Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of stony wood beneath lenient

moss bed.

And awe suddenly

passing beyond itself. Becomes a form of comfort.

Becomes the steady air you glide on, arms

stretched like the wings of flying foxes. To hear the multiple silence

of trees, the rainy

forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,

as salt water would hold you,

once you dared. To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself unabating down and down

to clenched fists of rock. Swiftness of plunge,

hour after year after century,

O or Ah uninterrupted, voice


To breathe spray. The smoke of it.


of steelwhite foam, glissades

of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—

rage or joy?

Thus, not mild, not temperate, God’s love for the world. Vast

flood of mercy

flung on resistance.

To Live in the Mercy of God, by Denise Levertov


Joy. Rage.

Wild. Thunderous.

Is this what I want when I ask for mercy for me?

When I pray for a friend whose heart is breaking?

When I ask that truth be brought to light?


The Lenten Writings: the gift of resistance


And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, and they Were talking to Jesus.”–Mark 9:2

They were talking to him about heaven, how all forms there were luciform,

How the leather girdle and the matted hair, how the lice coursing the skin

And the skin skinned alive, blaze with perfection, the vibrance of light.

And they were talking about the complexities of blood and lymph,

Each component crowding the vessels, the body and the antibody,

And they were talking about the lamp burning in the skull’s niche,

The eyes drinking light from within and light from without,

And how the present belonged to the flesh and its density and darkness

And was hard to talk about.

Before and after were easier.

They talked about light.

They were talking to him about law and how lawgiving should be

Like rainfall, a light rain falling all morning and mixing with dew –

A rain that passes through the spider web and penetrates the dirt clod

Without melting it, a persistent, suffusing shower, soaking clothes,

Making sweatshirts heavier, wool stink and finding every hair’s root on the scalp.

And that is when you hurled judgement into the crowd and watched them

Spook like cattle, reached in and stirred the turmoil faster, scarier.

And they were saying that, to save the best, many must be punished, Including the best.

And no one was exempt, as they explained it,

Not themselves, not him, or anyone he loved, anyone who loved him.

I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant companions,

And I want to believe he said too much was being asked and too much promised.

I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes of his friends,

The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them, because he loved them

And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were going to suffer.

I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he appeared glorified,

Because he could not reconcile the contradictions and suspected

That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort of the lost.

I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want to believe

He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened,

And they talked.

Source: “Transfigured” by Mark Jarman, from Praying the Gospels through Poetry Lent to Easter, by Peggy Rosenthal, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH, 2001.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries

I remember, early in our journey of foster care, the school director made a side remark: “Sometimes love is not enough.” I was taken aback at her “rude” comment; so different from all those who said we were doing such a wonderful thing. The reality is, 10+ years in, I trust her words much more. The platitudes are long gone along with that initial wave of well wishers. The director remains a wise voice in my ear, here for the long journey.

And daily, we choose love. Love for the children, for the bio family, for the community, even for the forces that shaped them. It is a bold YES.

I read this poem through several times. It really turns the story on its head!

Lent is like that. We want to fast forward to the end of the story, the resurrection that we know is coming because we peeked at the last chapter. But Lent says no, read the whole story.

This idea of transfiguration as the resistance of love…

I wonder if there was a time that Jesus realized love was not enough? Sounds sacrilegious, almost, doesn’t it?

Love wasn’t going to shortcut the story. It couldn’t protect those He loved from pain.

And yet, it is enough; it’s a both/and. It is enough for today.

And they talked.

The Lenten writings: holding hands with sorrow

I might never have asked what could be

but for sorrow.

I might never have opened to the terrible vulnerability of love

but for tears.

I might never have begun this treacherous path to God

but for emptiness**.

I remember, as a child, being fascinated with the book “Hinds feet on high places”. Much Afraid, the main character, is invited by a gentle Shepherd to go on an adventure to the high places. She longs to go to those mountain that she can see from afar. But even the idea is utterly impossible. She has feet that don’t let her walk well. When he takes her to the foothills to begin her walk upwards, he introduces her to her traveling companions: sorrow and suffering. She recoils from their touch, tinged with pain. “Why couldn’t you give me joy and peace as traveling companions instead” she asks.

I Identified with Much Afraid on so many levels. My rheumatoid disease came early, before age two. And with it, came many rules. I was not allowed to run, or to play outside, or take PE. The idea of going to the high places would have been just as laughable for me.

My night child also carried much fear; each bedtime it permeated the air. The idea of doing something bold and brave was just as unreachable as the distant mountaintop.

I think of the girl who was, and the woman who now inhabits this body. This much stronger body can take walks, dance with my daughter in the kitchen, plant a garden, and choose to do bold things. It’s still invites care with kindness, but it is full of possibility and hope.

Would I be this woman without these journey mates?

Something to sit with on the second day of Lent.

**poem: But for Sorrow by Rob Suarez. Source: from America Magazine, Vol. 184, No. 10, 03/26/2001.

The poem is for the first Thursday of Lent from the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

In the emptiest of places…

Politics aside, there is a dire need today to fight for justice for those who have no voice. A well kept secret is that God plays favorites. The immigrant, the poor, the stranger among us are mentioned more than 2000 times in Scripture. 

Folks are setting aside the next 24 hours to pray and fast. It’s not about whether you eat food or not. Isaiah 58 throws that idea in the mud.  I would invite you to sit with these ancient words today and see what stirs…

58 1-3 “Shout! A full-throated shout!

    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!

Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,

    face my family Jacob with their sins!

They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,

    and love studying all about me.

To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—

    law-abiding, God-honoring.

They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’

    and love having me on their side.

But they also complain,

    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?

    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

3-5 “Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.

    You drive your employees much too hard.

You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.

    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.

The kind of fasting you do

    won’t get your prayers off the ground.

Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:

    a day to show off humility?

To put on a pious long face

    and parade around solemnly in black?

Do you call that fasting,

    a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after:

    to break the chains of injustice,

    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,

    free the oppressed,

    cancel debts.

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

    sharing your food with the hungry,

    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,

    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,

    being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,

    and your lives will turn around at once.

Your righteousness will pave your way.

    The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer.

    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.”

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices,

    quit blaming victims,

    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,

    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—

    firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,

    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,

    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,

    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,

    make the community livable again.

13-14 “If you watch your step on the Sabbath

    and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,

If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,

    God’s holy day as a celebration,

If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’

    making money, running here and there—

Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!

    Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.

I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”

    Yes! God says so!

The Message (MSG)

When hello means goodbye

Holding space tonight for the babies gone too soon. Sometimes hello means goodbye.

Sometimes the baby is taken before it’s life is even known. Sometimes others make choices for wee ones. Sometimes we don’t even get to say hello. Sometimes there is no space or time for goodbye. Sometimes we are asked to love a baby not knowing for how long what the end of the story will be. Sometimes there are no tears left to come. 

This concludes pregnancy and infant loss month. I have entered spaces of grief often this month, my own and others. My heart aches for my baby gone before I could know her. And for a mother who buried hers today. I hold space for a family who has been mourning for a long while. And for another whose baby changed us all. For a family daring to love without guarantees, just to bathe a baby in love. 

In the middle of Halloween and elections, may there be space for quiet remembering and loud grief.

Death screams. 

And we will never be the same. 

The dark night 

Today I am thinking about a friend walking through her own dark night of the soul.  I am thinking about how suffering marks us. It takes us deeper in.  

She  will not emerge the same. There is grief in that at times, and a sense of being “apart.” It can also be lonely. I often feel that acutely when I am in a social situation. There is a sense that I have spent long stretches of time cocooned with a Presemce. It can make it hard to “small talk.”

And there is beauty. Richard Rohr says suffering  can launch  you into the second half of life, early. Not in terms of chronological age, although some days it may feel like that. But where new tasks await and the old containers no longer serve. (Falling Upward). There is a clarity, a sense of vision, that influences even the smallest “yes and no” choices. 

There are some unknowns on my road ahead; far more questions than answers. I hold all of that uncertainty in my stomach. It feels tight, like someone gave it a quarter turn. I check my body for feelings, because I learned early on in my recovery process that my body tells the truth. Grief, sadness; that’s what sits in my stomach. I want desperately to claw for control. I slow my breathing, turn on the sparkly copper strung lights. 

And so I fold the clothes for a ten year old, halving and smoothing with Waldorf-like rhythm. Suffering opened this gift; I used to fold and listen to a podcast or talk on the phone. Double tasking is the American way, right?  Until you can’t. Usually not by choice. And when the ability comes again, I can choose. I can keep the rhythms slow, meditative. Feel the fabric, marvel at the way a ten year old slides through knees. 

Because this is the time. 

There is no other 

I have this moment. Today. 

For tonight. 

So many nights right now hold more questions than answers. Sleep beckons, then eluded capture. Thoughts and feelings tumble over each other for center stage. 

So what is true?  What is true for tonight is the Presence. It is both not enough and more than enough. 

I remember early in my recovery process in 1998 night times were terrifying. Memories often came back at night, and there was no way to know what new truth might come into full knowing. The brain works that way, processing trauma as it heals. I often would fall asleep to Fernando Ortega: Jesus King of Angels. The words washed over me, allowing me to surrender and sleep. 

So for tonight a bedtime prayer:

🌛the peace of God be over me to shelter me, 🌜under me to uphold me, 🌙about me to protect me, ⭐️behind me to direct me, 🌟ever with me to save me. 💫The peace of all peace be mine this night. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

The art of patience. 

Just for the record, I don’t have this. I was raised to figure it out, get things done, think it through, try harder. All of those well honed skills of my Baptist childhood are not serving me right now.

Healing  takes time. There are lovely supportive modalities, acupuncture and craniosacral, oils and chiropractic and reiki.  I do them, gratitude brimming for gifted practitioners. They help to support the body’s natural healing process; but nothing can rush it.

Today was a day of trying to figure it out. And after all my best efforts, it didn’t do it. If I could have the ability to do something by the sheer force of my will, I would be doing many things. It doesn’t work. 

Tonight it was a concert for the children. My brain was glitching, as my middle schooler says. More descriptive than “post concussive syndrome”. A little loss perhaps, in the grand scheme of things; but a little loss in a long string of losses.

And so, for tonight, I’m giving my brain permission to rest. Healing brains like rest; not the sleeping kind, but the kind that pulls down the stimulation and external noise and light. 

The problem is, much of the noise comes from inside me.  So for tonight, I ask for quiet to seep into my very cells. 

  Psalm 130

I pray to God… My life a prayer… And wait for what he’ll say and do. My life’s on the line before God, my Lord. Waiting and watching til morning. Waiting and watching til morning.