Prayer and suffering

Thinking about prayer and the intercession of the saints leeds to much reflection on the actual state of these saints now. Why should requests to them be more favourably received than requests to God, or Jesus and anyway, whatever their preoccupations and interests while alive, why should they be concerned with me and my problems now. On the other hand my problems are insignificant compared to those of others in so many places. So what right have I to any preferential treatment, especially since evidence of divine intervention in peoples affairs is patchy, to say the least.

This raises the much more profound question of God’s relationship to us and to the world in general. The more I think, pray and meditate the more I become aware of the absolute transcendence of God. On the one hand there is all that tradition and theology have to say of the immanence of God and which I believe. The idea that our Christian destiny is a process of theosis makes much sense. It integrates religious experience with lives of self-sacrifice for others and for God. It explains why loving self-sacrifice for the sake of others does not have to be overtly, or even consciously, religious. But suffering I do not understand. The suffering resulting from self-sacrifice I can understand and I can understand how it can be something willingly accepted, embraced even. Love is kenotic; it is an outpouring of self; it is creative and life-giving and birth always includes a death. But I cannot understand how destructive suffering, the suffering resulting from evil and hatred fits in – the suffering that corrupts, perverts and ultimately destroys the receiver and, more often than not, the giver as well. In the face of the destructive  power of evil, as in Iraq or Palestine, individual acts of self-sacrificial love, of altruism, of generous forgiveness even of the enemy, shine as feeble guttering candles in an all-pervading gloom. 

If God is immanent one wonders why the progress towards theosis has to be so tentative and halting? Why something generated so deep in the depths of the individual that it rarely rises to conscious awareness and then only ambiguously? If above all we are social beings (as even Marx was aware), if our very humanity is dependent on our sociality, if in Christ, and in the Eucharist, we are members one of another, why is each so alone in his suffering? Pain scours and abrades to the depths of being. Perhaps it is cleansing us of self but in doing that it reveals nothing there in the depths, not God, not light, only emptiness and darkness. None of this makes sense. There are no answers, none that can be articulated anyway, or expressed. There is a feeling, however, no more than that, of being on the brink. Of what? A mystery so vast… 

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