March 29th, 2020
“O God, if I worship you in fear of hell, burn me in hell. If I worship you in hope of paradise, shut me out from paradise. But if I worship you for your own sake, do not withhold from me your everlasting beauty.” —Rábi‘a (717–801), Islamic mystic and poet
Every morning I wake and I wonder if a certain young woman is still alive.
I go to her bedroom and peek in the door. I try to be silent. I look to see if she moves. I feel bad about invading her privacy, and don’t want to wake her, but I want to know that she is breathing. Once I see any motion, I leave her to continue her sleep. I relax just a little bit.
The young woman had a drug relapse on Friday, and I’m not quite over it. Neither is she. She’s had relapses before, and they are always traumatic. The episode itself is intense and loaded with adrenalin. The days afterward are like emotional hangovers. This latest event has long term consequences, including physical injury. This hangover will not go away any time soon.
For years and years, Karin and I belonged to a Bible study group. Almost everyone else in the group was some flavor of Baptist. They were all wonderful, loving people who espoused a truly wretched type of theology. Everything good that happened in life was a gift from God. Anything bad was entirely due to human sin. Really?
Carl Jung wrote a book, “Answer to Job”, where he tried to tackle the issue of human suffering. He noted that we often pray to God to save us from God. Some Christians blame all the evil in the world on Satan. Okay, why not? But who created the devil? If a person follows the trail of suffering far enough they will find that it always leads back to God. Then the question becomes: why is He doing this? Maybe the question should be: why is He allowing this? No faith tradition has a good enough answer to that question. The catechism of the Catholic Church has a long essay regarding suffering in the world, and eventually, after much verbiage, concludes that it is all a mystery. The Church could have said that in one sentence. It’s not hard to say, “We don’t know.”
We are now in the season of Lent. For Catholics and many other Christians this time period is all about suffering, sin, and repentence. It is a time to meditate on paradox. It is a time to accept things that are perhaps unacceptable. It really is a time of mystery.
Some of our Evangelical friends would go into default mode by shaking their heads sadly and sighing, “It’s a fallen world.” That means absolutely nothing, but somehow it explained everything to their satisfaction. “Fallen world” basically implies that our entire universe is screwed up due to the first sin of our primordial ancestors. That idea is unjust. It is also irrational. Every time I consider that notion, my mind screams, “WTF?”
I fall back on Zen at times like this. Buddhism is at least honest enough to shrug its collective shoulders and say, “Don’t know.” Zen encourages people to see the world as it is, and then just deal with it. I find that to be difficult path, but still acceptable.
Is the young woman going to die in our house some day? Maybe. Don’t know. The idea terrifies me, but it could easily happen.
All we can do is accept the possibility and love her as best we can, while we can.