April 30, 2012

Love in the Midst of Suffering

I had a blog post almost ready to post before I went to church on Sunday evening. Perhaps that’s what a sacrament should do: engage and disrupt. At St. Lydia’s on Sunday evenings we prepare a meal together and participate in a simple and ancient liturgy. We tell stories and sing and pray. This week, some of the stories were unexpectedly moving. They were about loss and healing.

Telling each other difficult things, making sure that someone else in the world knows that we are in pain, or afraid, or have endured a difficult past, isn’t easy, but it’s essential to living in community. We are, to some extent, the story that we tell ourselves, a narrative that we’ve been developing throughout our entire lives. If we don’t tell that story, then we shrink into ourselves and away from our community.

Of course, these experiences aren’t always easy to tell, or to hear. After the sermon we sang, and then we were invited to offer our prayers aloud. This Sunday there were more names than usual - the names of the sick and those who had died and those who were suffering in less tangible ways.

As we sang a song I love - “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” – something that my father used to say to me, I could see tears in the eyes of some of those at the table. But what I was feeling, and what I think those around me were feeling, was not sadness but hope. I was reminded that the world is suffering, and filled with love for it and all those in it, and all those in my community.

Emily, the pastor of our congregation, preached about fishermen and nets, a story from the end of the gospel of John. The disciples had been fishing all evening and come up with nothing, until Jesus called to them from the shore to throw in their nets again. They caught almost more then they could haul into the boat. Sometimes our nets come up empty, Emily said. Sometimes our nets are filled.

The story we celebrate every Sunday contains both death and resurrection. We tell a story of life in the midst of death, hope in the midst of suffering. Are our communities making room for the stories of members, both the good and the bad? And by that I mean making room for genuine conversation, in which we refrain from sanitizing our own past to keep things tidy.

The stories I often hear at St. Lydia’s are heartfelt and vulnerable and honest. A community, like the liturgy we partake in every Sunday, can, and ought to, make room for fear and despair, empty hearts and empty nets; it can hold suffering and pain, and then it can surround it with love.