The art of the spiritual life is to be able to archive. When I see my friend Nancy, who is an archivist for the cathedral, I am reminded of this from her beautiful smile, even as she experiences such deep physical pain every day, her prayer-life shines through it and transfigures it in ways which remind me to be patient and keep going.
It is possible to be afraid of suffering. Never be afraid of suffering. In that eye of the storm is the divine voice whispering that you are embraced in a Great Tenderness which is God.
The suffering we experience in physical pain, slander, manipulation, abuse, regret and failure all works inside us and around us either to make us beautiful or ugly and it is, in the end, our choice as to which occurs.
If the suffering – large like a massive betrayal or small like a mean comment semi-whispered – if the suffering is kept and milked like a baby on its mother then poison pumps. But if, on the other hand, we can stay inside the eye of the storms which come upon us and find that whispering voice of God who is there with us, then we can let the storm soften and smooth us the way the cedar siding is smooth and grey on a New England cliff-side house.
We archive the suffering rather than milk it – that is the way of God. The suffering does not get expunged from the record. It simply is kept where God is, so that they can do the work of beautifying our soul. It is not hard to see people whose suffering has warped them into something sad or manipulative or creepy. But at the same time, it is not hard to see people, as I did on Wednesday at a marriage renewal of vows, whose suffering has, alongside God’s tenderness, made them translucent, transfigured and translated into a new Gospel-on-legs.