Sunday, June 07, 2015

Transforming our pain


One of the excellent things that has happened to Canberra since I have lived here is that Dr Andrew Cameron, an academic theologian of some brilliance, who used to give the Centre for Christian Living lectures when I lived in Sydney that were always stimulating, is now the Director of the St Mark’s Theological Centre here. I was recently glancing through the latest St Mark’s Review, and was arrested by the front page where Andrew Cameron was quoted from his address at a graduation of counseling students. I love this (if it’s unclear who is being quoted, the first paragraph is Richard Rohr, and the second is Andrew Cameron):
 “I’ve been very struck by something written by the U.S. Franciscan thinker, Richard Rohr. ‘If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter. Indeed, there are bitter people everywhere, inside and outside of the church. As they go through life, the hurts, disappointments, betrayals, abandonments, the burden of their own sinfulness and brokenness all pile up, and they do not know where to put it ... Exporting our unresolved hurt is almost the underlying story line of human history’,” he said.

“I believe Christianity brings something unique to the making of ‘sacred’ wounds. In 2 Corinthians 1, St Paul describes ‘the sufferings of Christ as abundant for us’, such that ‘our consolation is abundant through Christ’. It follows, he believes, that we are ‘able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God’.”
I went googling for the source, and found this quote from Richard Rohr, here:
All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. Great religion shows you what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust. If only we could see these “wounds” as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become “sacred wounds” and not something to deny, disguise, or export to others.

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter. Indeed, there are bitter people everywhere. As they go through life, the hurts, disappointments, betrayals, abandonments, the burden of their own sinfulness and brokenness all pile up, and they do not know where to put it. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

Exporting our unresolved hurt is almost the underlying storyline of human history. Biblical revelation is about transforming history and individuals, so that we don’t just keep handing the pain on to the next generation. Unless we can find a meaning for human suffering, that God is somehow in it, and can even use it for good, humanity is in major trouble.
I like that. I know I still have some wounds that need transforming. I recently read the book Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson, which I won’t discuss in detail here, but I appreciated her chapter on Owning Your Response to Others (called Choosing to Overcome: Moving Beyond Hurt).

I am actually taking some leave soon and going away for what I am calling a “retreat”. (I believe I have blogged long ago along the lines of how for years what I have done for holidays is visit family, because in the absence of anyone obvious to take holidays with that is the default, so this time I am going somewhere else. Folks often point out the advantage of singleness being that you have the freedom to do what you please when you please, but to my mind that is a freedom that stands primarily if you wish to do it alone, in that as soon as you’d like to do a thing with somebody I don’t believe it’s very much easier to arrange something suitable with other independent adults that you don’t normally live than it is with a spouse. So I am doing what I please when I please and taking a holiday by myself. (I do actually have an dear old friend who asked if I wanted to go to Hay-on-Wye book Festival with her in England, which would have been so fabulous, but as I wanted to get the house-buying thing done I didn’t commit to that at the time, then I was recently tagged in a Facebook post of a single friend in Sydney looking for people to go to the coast, but I’d already booked elsewhere, so there are options, and I acknowledge that I might need to do more in future to find them. But I am actually really looking forward to a few days away by myself this time. I intend simply to explore some nice scenery and read books.)) I feel the need to deal with some hurts that seep every now and again. And after discussing a situation that has long grieved me with someone who’s in this business they suggested I write everything I'd like to say in a letter, leave it for a few days, then burn it, so I might try that. (It isn’t possible in this situation to give a letter to the person concerned, letters given have wrought nothing, and I have tried in vain many times in the past to request a conversation, which the other person doesn’t agree to or engage in, and with the way things now are I can’t initiate anything further myself and just need to leave it to God.)

I’m also really looking forward to then having a week at home. I am busting to have the time to do some things here that I haven’t yet got to. The two spare rooms are not yet properly sorted or set up and beds need to be swapped around, I want to transplant some bushes in the garden, paint some furniture, and just be here during the daylight (as I moved in just as daylight saving ended I feel like I am barely here when I can see outside) to sit in the sunshine and drink tea. But that's not what this post was meant to be about ...

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