Sunday, January 17, 2010
Taking up my needlework and gazing on the reverse side of my embroidery, I am reminded of an image drawn in words by St. Pio of Pietrelcina. As we gaze up at God's Plan from beneath it, we observe only haphazard threads, random lines of colours, uneven knots, and frayed plies where the threads were cut off. Like a little child gazing up at his mother's stitchery from a little stool, we see an ugly farce of a pattern. I showed my work to some twelve-year old students in catechism today. One young boy arched his brow and said with his very adult cadence, 'Did you make the other side like that on purpose?' I replied, 'I could not have helped it if I tried. I wanted to create something beautiful, and that meant strain and ugliness on the other side of the pattern.'

Perhaps my answer does not in anyway--literally or allegorically--resemble the Truth behind God's will in the event of sorrow. He does not answer us while we traverse this Earth, as He did not answer Job. When that righteous man cried out, provoked past endurance by the religious censure of his friends, he received the great Non-Answer of God. That which is transcribed below concerns the very elements that have recently and cruelly afflicted the Haitian people:

Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou Me. Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell Me if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Upon what are its bases grounded? or who laid the corner stone thereof, When the morning stars praised Me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody? Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth as issuing out of the womb: When I made a cloud the garment thereof, and wrapped it in a mist as in swaddling bands? I set my bounds around it, and made it bars and doors:

And I said: Hitherto thou shalt come, and shalt go no further, and here thou shalt break thy swelling waves. Didst thou since thy birth command the morning, and shew the dawning of the day its place? And didst thou hold the extremities of the earth shaking them, and hast thou shaken the ungodly out of it? The seal shall be restored as clay, and shall stand as a garment: From the wicked their light shall be taken away, and the high arm shall be broken.

Hast thou entered into the depths of the sea, and walked in the lowest parts of the deep? Have the gates of death been opened to thee, and hast thou seen the darksome doors? Hast thou considered the breadth of the earth? tell me, if thou knowest all things? Where is the way where light dwelleth, and where is the place of darkness: That thou mayst bring every thing to its own bounds, and understand the paths of the house thereof.

Didst thou know then that thou shouldst be born? and didst thou know the number of thy days? Hast thou entered into the storehouses of the snow, or has thou beheld the treasures of the hail: Which I have prepared for the time of the enemy, against the day of battle and war? By what way is the light spread, and heat divided upon the earth? Who gave a course to violent showers, or a way for noisy thunder:

That it should rain on the earth without man in the wilderness, where no mortal dwelleth: That it should fill the desert and desolate land, and should bring forth green grass? Who is the father of rain? or who begot the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice; and the frost from heaven who hath gendered it? The waters are hardened like a stone, and the surface of the deep is congealed.

Shalt thou be able to join together the shining stars the Pleiades, or canst thou stop the turning about of Arcturus? Canst thou bring forth the day star in its time, and make the evening star to rise upon the children of the earth? Dost thou know the order of heaven, and canst thou set down the reason thereof on the earth? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that an abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou send lightnings, and will they go, and will they return and say to thee: Here we are? (Job 38: 3-35)

Job rose to meet the Grace occasioned by this holy visitation. Rather than legalistically pointing out that his personal misery remains and had not been addressed, he was raised to humility. Shaken out of rumination on his fell fortune, all that exists in his being stood forth to praise the existence established by Him That Is, the great Sum Qui Sum--Being Itself. Not in the annihilation of Quietism, but in the unity God intended for all to whom He imparted life, Job humbly responds thusly:

What can I answer, who hath spoken without considering? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. One thing I have spoken, which I wish I had not said: and another, to which I shall add no more. (Job 39: 34-35)

A portion of the Haitian people seem to have taken the same route. This Sunday, many of those that could attended Mass, as I did in Poland. Unlike me, they had to hold handkerchiefs to their noses so as not to be overcome by the smell of death. Father Eric Toussaint, a priest wondrously possessing the surname of a beatified Haitian, stood in the ruins of their dead bishop's seat and said:

Why give thanks to God? Because we are here. We say 'Thank you God.' What happened is the will of God. We are in the hands of God now...I watched the destruction of the cathedral from this window. I am not dead because God has a plan for me...What happens is a sign from God, saying that we must recognize his power - we need to reinvent ourselves. (

I cannot say that I know what it is to suffer. It takes but a brief glance on history, the lives of the saints, or today's headlines to humble any travail I may have endured. Yet, I shall not say that I do not what it is to suffer. Rather, I know what it is to not suffer. Perhaps not everyone is possessed of this condition; certainly, not every spiritual advisor is aware of it. Yet, it has spiritual temptations of its own.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky gave voice to so much of my inward resentment of reality's pains through his character Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan attempts either to justify or elaborate his reasons for disbelieving in a benevolent god to his brother Alyosha, by arguing that even given God's inevitable triumph and promise of paradise, suffering can never be answered for. Not the whole glory of creation can blot out the travail of one single innocent:

This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents...Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty -- shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn't ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this...Can you understand why a little creature...should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice...Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child's prayer to dear, kind God'! (The Brothers Karamazov: Book V, Chapter 4)

Like Ivan, I have felt such resentment. There have been moments when, like he, I almost flattered myself that I loved these suffering souls more than the God who created them: 'I would never do or allow such a thing. I would tear out the hair of a mother who abused her child, scratch the eyes of a man who would dare harm one of these little ones. If I saw a hungry child and had the ability to provide, I would not withhold sustenance from him.'

Yet, stronger than the feelings of resentment towards God, was the guilt. All of the fortunate men on Earth who truly contemplate the unfortunate feel it in some form or other at some point in their lives. In some, it manifests itself in self-justification and condemnation of less fortunate. Those who are afflicted have sinned, ergo we need not pity them. Weal is for the holy, and woe is for the evil. Others take the path of Ivan Karamazov and choose to despise the World and its Creator for even allowing the problem of pain.

That guilt's spiritual agony is unrelenting at times. To breathe clean air and know the Chinese are stifled with pollution, just as many of my forbears were during the Industrial Revolution, to lie on my bed, knowing that I am secure against civil unrest and may sleep soundly, to drink my clean, safe water, to be hungry and know that my stomach will be filled in less than a day, to walk on two sound legs, to be conscious of my sound, healthy body, my educated mind, and my wholesome familial history is at times maddening!

'Why? Why am I given these things and others are not? How can I be happy when others are not allowed happiness? God, why can't you make me as miserable and wretched as they are, so they cannot lord it over me?' I choke on these last words for two reasons. The first obviously being uncertainty concerning my fortitude--my petty dread of suffering. The second being, that I realize so much of my abhorrence of the horrors plaguing humanity stems from my pride, not from my fraternal love or humility.

To my 'why', I know God will at least say this: 'I do not spare thee, because thou dost deserve it.' Therein lies the rub and the source of my discomfort. I am not childlike and cannot accept the lot God has given me or others. When I contribute aid to the needy, it is often with the greatest misery of spirit, because I refuse to accept that God knows better than I what is good for them. It is not enough to assist; I would wish to reverse their entire fortunes, to erase their pained existence from human history. Too often I have refused to accept that the great Sculptor, mercilessly chiselling on particular fine piece of marble loves that statue more than this rough-hewn block of granite looking on.

Worse still, I see where the miserable side of my 'compassion' will lead.

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The Unease of the Non-Sufferer: I by Rachel Rudd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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