“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.” Mark 8:31-32
To come into this world is to come into suffering. Indeed, we were born in pain, and if we did not show enough, the doctor spanked us. We spent most of our early weeks either sleeping or crying. Crying seemed to meet our demands and soon parents and people were responding to our suffering; feeding us “on demand,” entertaining us, and showing us off to others. But the suffering continued; through early school, middle school, high school, in all our relationships and vocations. And finally the grim reaper gets the last word after all our efforts to fight have failed, and we return to dust from which we had come!
Not a very pretty picture. Sacred scriptures teach the same picture. We read that even Jesus, the “Son of Man” had to undergo great suffering, and great betrayal and rejection of his own religious leadership, being killed but finally rising again leaving this world go return Home.
It’s like we chose to come here looking for happiness but it so quickly eluded us. We do and buy all sorts of things to remove the suffering of boredom and unhappiness but they fade so quickly. How true it is, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have failed, missed the mark, chased after illusions and came up short on happiness. We have been chasing “slippery soap.”
Fr. Dan Serbicki, the youngest priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese, gave such a neat sermon the other night at St. John’s Lutheran Church. In his search for happiness, he learned early on that helping others gave him happiness. Helping the poor made him feel so good and gave him excitement. He decided to go on special trips to help the “needy” but in time it seemed to come up short. He went to on a “mission trip” to help in Steubenville, Ohio, but there he learned the way of St. Francis; the time you spend in helping others had to be spent in time finding peace and happiness within, of allowing the Divine to “serve you!” He told how St. Francis worked two weeks for the poor and needy but then returned and remained two weeks in silence to regain a sense of God serving and filling him as his Source.
It’s easy to use mission and service to others as an elixir or remedy for loneliness and suffering. Years ago I read a book warning counselors about “treating oneself at the expense of others.” Written for counselors and social workers, it could apply to any. We commit ourselves to a little service project then wait for the cheers, ribbons of rewards for our “love of humanity,” in Christ’s name no less. It can easily become an ego trip.
The Eight Fold Path of Buddhism begins by stating misery and suffering are universal on this earth plain. The Second Truth states the cause of such suffering is our attachment to mortality; our bodies, the earth, and the world in which we work and feel with our sensory selves. The Third Truth is that we become free from suffering by detaching ourselves from the material world and giving up expectations it can ever for long satisfy us. The rest of the “truths” give us disciplines, the “middle ways”, such as the practice of “none-doing” to help cultivate these truths into our lives to find more happiness and peace with less suffering.
Peter and the disciples couldn’t believe Jesus said such a teaching about the Son of God undergoing suffering. Peter rebuked Jesus for saying such words. But Jesus turned him back by calling him “Satan,” or adversary for not having his mind on holy ideas and ways. Church and religion doesn’t automatically alleviate sufferings. Oh, it tries with friendly people, pleasant music, assuring sermons. But repentance, “changing one’s thinking” is painful and involves suffering as we are forced to change values and ideas. And who are the “Sons of God” in this story from Mark? It’s who you and I are in reality. It’s a myth telling us about ourselves. In order for us to discover our Son of God status, our Divinity, the Inward Kingdom, Presence, Atman, Allah, Hasham, Bahaula, we have to die to our egos, our body/world identifications.
When you come to the realization you are “not your body” but Spirit, the very Son or Daughter of God, it will involve times of deep suffering, especially if you have worked hard to attain worldly success, or if you are a “religious leader.” Paul said all his religious teachings he counted as “shit” compared to the experience of knowing the Christ! But oh the shock of suffering in going through the change!
Some of the most unhappy and suffering, judgmental people are religious leaders. Thinking we had at least gained seats of authority and power and prestige, it soon dissipates in flames and illusion! That’s why the number one medical call for clergy is for psychiatric help.
I remember in the 1980’s meeting Fr. De Mello and later the India trip and the introduction to the book A Course in Miracles. Talk about mental stress! I was introduced to a spiritual understanding I had never known. Leaders began to criticize me then and now. “You no longer have the anger and passion to ‘save the world’! Why did you give up leading the ‘Church and Society Justice Committee’? You have become a pagan Gnostic!” I only survived by being somewhat of a “trickster” and remembering not to take this place so seriously. And in practicing meditation and forgiveness.
The meaning of the word “suffer” is “to endure.” The Greek word, “pathos” is the root of our word “pathetic” or “feeling disease.” To live in ignorance of our Christ Spirit Self is to live “pathetic lives” or as Thoreau wrote, “lives of quiet desperation.” This world is a place of “quiet” as well as “loud” desperation. Murders, global warming causing billions of dollars of destruction, constant wars to gain, regain, and preserve and re-preserve “true freedom,” are just a few examples of the insanity of suffering we read about each day, to assure us we are “normal.” Have you noticed the present political news? It’s not news; it’s the same ol’ same ‘ol of the ages.
In ancient sacred writings the “three days in the tomb” symbolized the conversion of one from hoping in this world to hoping in the Spirit world. It was the symbolic meaning of Jonah in the belly of the “great fish” for three days. It symbolized the great conversion process when one accepts he or she has been awfully lost, chasing shadows rather than reality. The story of Jesus portrays this. He dies to his ego self, the flesh, in order to be raised to new life in Spirit. He spends three days and three nights “in hell” before coming out alive and awake! It is part of Paul’s words describing “the presence of God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Rom. 4:17) Strange, mysterious words reflecting a change of mind, realizing the “kingdom isn’t out there but in here, inside.”
In the medieval times the word “alchemy” was used to describe the process in which heat could be applied to organic elements of the earth and in time, refine and burn off the dross to reveal gold. It’s similar to our process of becoming closer to the experience of peace and transcendent love in our lives. We recognize the pain and suffering of existence here in mortality. Rather than fight it, we feel it, accept it and allow the transformation to happen in our lives. The next time you feel loneliness and pain, recognize it. Don’t try to fix it but just be with it, feeling it and realizing it is a part of existence in this mortal plane. And staying with it, your inward spirit will be heated, refine, and sprung to new life with a vision far beyond the mortality of this universe.
There’s a story of a man with a stubborn mule. One day he goes to town taking his wife with the mule pulling the cart. Suddenly the mule stopped and refused to go on. The man got out of the seat, took a big stick and hit the mule over the head, not once but three times. Then he got back in the seat and with a little click, the mule went on. His wife asked, “Why in the world did you strike the mule three times instead of just once?” Her husband answered, “The first two were just to get its attention. Finally it listened.”
What mules we often are; we go through one suffering loss after another, getting banged on the head and kicked it the stomach. We don’t give up death and ego easily. May today, after years of suffering sticks with crying nights and sad days, let us awaken from our dark tombs and walk out into the light, knowing the search is over and we are now on the way home. The endless race to nowhere has ended.
What is the purpose of life here on earth?
How do I now define my death and my birth?
For that matter, what is my life really worth in the end?
What’s mine to give and what’s mine to receive?
Whom do I worship and what do I believe?
Seems every answer comes right back to me in the end…
What if the race is over, and we all automatically win?
What if the game is ended long before he even begins?
What if the test has been taken and we’re all passing again and again?
What if the race is over….what then?
– Words from Daniel Nahmod
So why the human plane at all? I can only muse and speculate on it. This plane sure does feel real right now and at the same time there is something in side me that is larger than the physical. It calls to me, I call that Spirit. Then there is the thinking and feeling, they too guide me. How ought one reconcile the fact that all three aspects of life exist. Ought not we use the all the resources and gifts that we are graced with? It is so hard to operate based on perceptions, but I think truth may belong to the spiritual plane. When I lose the physical aspect of me the truth will be known, until then I can only do my best to navigate this Earth. Thanks for the food for thought. Jim Barry
Thanks Jim for your thoughtful comments. I find everything we think and write about to be perceptions. Words, it is said, are “twice removed from Reality.” God just “is.” Our bodies/minds/personalies/gifts are ways we can move beyond and use them to share the “good news” with others, even though the ego/spirit conflict can be intense. But as you know, a few nice doses or winds of spirit put it all in perspective and at peace. The stories of the Bible, such as Christmas, are beautiful allegories that were used for centuries to teach this journey. Mary is “us” coming into the darkness of earth (winter solstice) with the Virgin Son of God within to which we can give birth! May our Easter awakenings be ever more clear and full of love for ourselves and one another.