Our Suffering is the Cross
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, April 10, 2016.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (9:16-30)
When Jesus refers to prayer and fasting in today’s Gospel reading I understand this to mean deep spiritual work, that is so much more than the little bit of prayer and fasting we usually do. We are in need of more than "superficial corrections to external symptoms." Church busyness is not a solution to the real problems we have which stem from the fact, as Watts puts it, “that the modern Christian has no sense of union with God.”
It is certain that without prayer we cannot grow spiritually and without fasting we cannot develop the essential tools of watchfulness -- letting go and letting be -- that nourish the soul and liberate the mind to realize that union with God is a given; it is the foundation of life itself.
The little boy’s seizure in today’s story represents any condition we may have that hinders our ability to love God, neighbor and self completely. Removing all internal obstacles to love is the point of spiritual practice. What we do not know about ourselves enslaves us. What lies hidden in us will eventually come to light.
We are all wounded. We carry with us great burdens of pain from which we need to be released. Our internal and often unconscious suffering often sidetracks us. This little boy’s wound manifested itself in epileptic seizures. Ours will manifest themselves in a variety of ways, psychological and physiological.
But the boy’s wound became the opening for a great miracle. It was the entry point of the Lord’s power. Our wounds as well are destined to be doorways for God’s Infinite Compassion. They are tragic and they are beautiful, like the Cross – openings for Compassion and self-knowledge which is the greatest of all spiritual gifts. That is why we must come to be able to accept and embrace our wounds.
The Cross represents this paradoxical truth. He took our sins, our fears, our diseases, our suffering and turned them into avenues of mercy. He suffered for us willingly and saved humanity not by ignoring the world’s suffering but by embracing it. The Cross is Life-Giving and the Tomb paradise and he shows us by example that the path is not in avoidance or denial, but in courageous, radical acceptance and unconditional compassion.
“Take up your cross,” he says, “and follow me.” We need look no further than our own bodies and souls. The Cross is already in us. We already carry it. We all suffer. “Taking up the Cross” means to do as Jesus did and embrace it. Simone Weil captures this truth when she writes that “We must not wish for the disappearance of our trouble, but for the grace to transform them.”
We can try to ignore it, but our pain and grief will call out to us until we notice. When it does we must ask fear to step aside and observe the pain closely, not at a distance. Our wounds, writes Rumi, are the place where the light enters. At the point of our suffering is the crossroad where God meets us.
The Way of the Cross is not an easy path. To alleviate suffering means literally that we must feel it, we must welcome it, we must comfort it. This demands courage that we sometimes do not feel we have. We may need help with this. A spiritual father or mother may be helpful if they are skillful healers. These are few and far between. Thankfully, modern psychology has discovered the benefit and power of spiritual work. Many contemporary therapeutic modalities are founded on these very insights and promote and encourage good spiritual practice. Do not be afraid or ashamed. It takes humility and courage to ask for help.
Here are some suggestions on how to begin to walk this path of heart and soul that Jesus has revealed to us.
First of all: turn your gaze within and get to know yourself.
Practice mindfulness. Live in the present moment. Focus on what is in front of you and within you. Throughout the day ask yourselves questions like, “Who am I? What thoughts am I thinking? Who is thinking them? What feelings am I having? Who is feeling them? What is motivating me?”
Nurture the sense of oneness with God. Union with God is not something we achieve; it is something we must realize.
Pray. Bring the Name of Jesus, a verse of Scripture or some other helpful saying to mind. Remember God often. Read Scripture and come to church. Community is necessary. We are not saved alone.
Nurture the sense of oneness with others. Always be ready and willing to help others. Each person you meet is Christ. If you cannot love someone, at least do them no harm. Speak up for justice when necessary. Promote fairness. Practice compassion and be bold about it.
Be honest with yourself. Be yourself. Be courageous. If you need help ask for it. Care for yourself.
Spend some time each day in stillness and silence. Take time to allow your mind to rest from its incessant dialogue. Nurture internal peace. Be consistent in the practice.
Fast. Guard your mind and your heart from destructive thoughts. Keep your mind on beautiful things and let unnecessary negative thoughts come and go like birds in the sky. Do not let them nest in your hair. Pay attention to what is going on under your skin.
Promote peace, practice love, walk in beauty, soften anger. Be patient with others and yourself; you and everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. Beat your swords into plowshares and stop the internal war.
Lastly, feed your soul daily and often and take excellent care of yourself and those you love. And especially those you don’t…yet.
To be one with God we must also be one with all.