We all hurt. We all feel pain. We all experience sorrow and loss. Even those who seem to have been born with a golden spoon in their mouths, whose every wish and whim is fulfilled, experience the ache. Even those who seem to have permanent smiles on their faces and endless cheer and joy have tear-soaked moments. (Ironically, the ever-happy seem to experience the most pain.)

I’d like you to pause for a moment and quickly recollect what you’ve labeled as the most painful experience of your life thus far, emotional or physical or perhaps the emotional pain so great that your very body physically ached. Once you have it in your mind’s eye, answer a question: What does the world around you look like? Who’s around you?

Chances are you can’t recall the world. You can’t recall much of anything. It just hurt and that’s all there is to the moment. The world with its day to day hustle and bustle, your clothes, your food, the news, your car, your job, your classes, your studies, the time, the day, the dishes, the dog, dinner, laundry, everything just simply disappears. In that moment, you have broken free of the world so to speak.

In her book, The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry articulates this notion quite eloquently and succinctly when she writes the following: “The absence of pain is the presence of world; the presence of pain is the absence of world.” The first time I read that quote I remember my mind reeling with thoughts. I had often thought about the issue of pain. Why we felt it, why it was so awful, why it seemed to be what stood out in our memories over the joy and the laughter. The thoughts stretch back in time as far back as I can remember actively thinking about my faith in Christ in order to deepen and expand it. In their most simplistic form, my thoughts went a little like this:

God = Love, happiness, joy, hope, and all the good stuff out there.

pain = all the crappy stuff out there, no joy, no love, no hope.

It seemed that God and pain could not coexist. So you stick close to God and you shouldn’t ever feel any of the bad stuff, right? No, not so much. It’s not flawed reasoning to think so because God is our shield and our protector. He gave His only begotten Son for us that we may have eternal life and not perish. So it is true, pain and God do not coexist. But this is an incomplete picture, and an incomplete picture leads to incomplete reasoning.

The Book of Revelation helps complete the picture. In it St. John writes of Christ’s second coming: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The notion that God’s presence wipes away pain is reaffirmed but here it is qualified–all the former things have passed away. The world with its 1,001 worries, distractions, temptations is gone, and only God in all His glory is there. How can there be pain and suffering? It’s not possible.

But we live in the world. We cannot escape it. In effect, there is no way out till we breathe our last. The worries, distractions, and temptations are simply a fixture of our corporeal existence. And as long as we are trapped in this world and simply focused on our corporeal experience and only concerned with the body and what will satisfy it, then we will never come to experience the joy of God’s presence for all of eternity. So now Scarry’s theory comes in to clarify things. She writes that the only thing that can shatter the hold of the world on us and break us out of its grasp and, in a way, out of ourselves is pain.

In order to look above and beyond to Him, we must experience pain and sorrow. The world is no more when we hurt. And when we see beyond the world we can see God and all of His comfort and mercy. Although we remain planted here physically, as the world melts away in the face of our struggles and only God remains, we are comforted by Him. In his most painful moments, David the prophet and the king writes “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning…Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness…” (Psalm 30:5, 11).

We feel pain so that we may see Him. When we see Him we are engulfed in His warmth and we are comforted. And we have the His promise of second coming when all the former things have passed and the pain itself no longer exists.

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The Taming of the Shrew stands out as one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies. Although just how funny it really is remains a matter of opinion. To briefly summarize the play, a rich Italian gentleman has two daughters, Katherina (Kate) and Bianca. Bianca is sweet and loved and chased by many suitors but her older sister Kate is entirely shrewish. No man wants to come near her because if she does not blow out his eardrums out with her shouting she will literally beat him. 

As always there has to be some sort of complication. Bianca is not allowed to get married until her older sister is first married, and this stipulation is what spurs the action of the play. One of Bianca’s suitors, Hortensio, convinces his friend Petruchio that Kate is the wife for him because she is beautiful and her dowry is large. Petruchio enters the play as the would-be hero who will capture Kate’s heart and release Bianca. Except he acts far more like a villain than a hero. He is not intent on capturing Kate’s heart but on breaking her will, on taming her (hence the title.) By the very end of the play, Kate and Petruchio are married and Kate has been tamed for lack of a better description. The unruly Katharina seems to have finally met her match. Critics world over have tried to rescue the play from its apparent chauvinistic traits but that is not my concern here.

First I offer the following passage from the second Act of the play in which Kate and Petruchio meet and he informs her that she will be his wife whether she likes it or not. After much witty banter and the exchange of some harsh words, the ever elusive Katherina seems to have finally been trapped as her interaction with Petruchio comes to a close and her father reenters the scene. He ends their interaction in the following manner:

“And therefore, setting all this chat aside,
Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife; your dowry ‘greed on;
And, Will you, nill you, I will marry you.
Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn;
For, by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,
Thy beauty, that doth make me like thee well,
Thou must be married to no man but me;
For I am he am born to tame you Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.
Here comes your father: never make denial;
I must and will have Katharina to my wife.”

Petruchio does just as he promises. The wild Kate becomes a domesticated Kate, simply concerned with pleasing her husband and attending to his needs. The world outside Petruchio and away from him no longer exists. And as Kate becomes a “Kate conformable as other household Kates” her spirit and her fire fizzles away. She is simply a changed woman.

Strangely enough, this play and particularly that excerpt bring to mind the following passage from the Bible. “There is difference [also] between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please [her] husband” (1 Corinthians 7:34).

And so the Bible presents us with the image of the unmarried or single woman as a free spirit not bound to the cares of this world but entirely focused on the world above. Her life is one focused on entirely on God, she is not bound to anything or anyone. Her will is free, and if she so chooses, she can will her entire being to revolve around her connection with God.

Now Kate is far from the best example of a single woman’s cares focusing on God, but the connection is there. Kate’s life did not revolve around anything of this world or its cares until Petruchio came along and her focus had to alter.

This is not an anti-marriage post by any means though. After all, the church regards a marriage as the formation of a new church within the home. It is one of the paths that lead to salvation. After all, the beauty of a Christian marriage is unparalleled. This is a post meant to extol the beauty of being single and living life on your own. There is something to be said for having your free time to while away on God and His glory.

Many run around in a panic, thinking that singledom is a disease of sorts that must be cured as fast as possible when in actuality it is a blessing meant to be cherished. Take the time you have on your own to grow in His wisdom and in His glory. To expand your capacity for love and humility. To grow into His likeness with every passing day. The time is too short and it will slip by before you realize it.

P.S. – The same thing goes for men too. See 1 Corinthians 7:32-33.

Today I pray for…

…Love in all its depth and perfection, patience in the face of the unknown, wisdom, perseverance, forgiveness, hope, joy, strength, humility. I pray for the ability to always walk the second mile when only asked to travel for one, to give without exceptions or expectations, to love most purely and simply, to never demand, to always believe. I pray to only speak kind words and always offer up a gentle spirit. I pray for you, always. I pray for your everlasting joy today and every day. I pray for internal peace for all because world wars always start on the inside of a single individual.

Today has been quite the whirlwind. Memorial Day is usually day for barbeque’s and time spent with friends and family… my day was a bit different. I was woken up from the strangest, most realistic dream I’ve had in a long time by my younger brother (who shouldn’t have been home until late evening) telling me that my mom was on the phone and that she wanted to speak to me. She asked me if I was ok and then told me she was on her way home. Utterly confused by all of this, especially her asking me if I was ok, I stumbled out of bed and grabbed my cell phone to check the time–it was 3:05 pm. I, too, stopped for a moment to wonder if I was ok after realizing that I slept through half the day.

Soon enough, my mother, father, and grandmother were back and I was helping them lug their purchases into the house. While my grandmother was momentarily distracted my mom pulled me to the side and confided in me that she found out earlier in the day that her uncle had passed away. She looked over at my grandmother for a second and looked back at me and said in the most helpless voice I’d heard come from my mother: “I don’t know how to tell her that her brother has passed away.” At 70 years old, my grandmother has more life in her than most young adults. When everyone else is too tired to keep going, she’s still zooming around cleaning something or fussing over someone. Yet, ever since my grandfather passed away five years ago, she has become markedly far more fragile, losing weight and shrinking to half her size. As I watched her zooming around our kitchen, I wondered how much more grief her frail frame could take.

As soon as everything was settled, she started asking my mother to call her brother for her. She wanted to congratulate him since his daughter had just recently given birth. And it wasn’t just any ordinary birth. You see, my mother’s cousin is 46 years old. She has been married for over 20 years and in all those years she had not been able to conceive. She went to fertility experts and tried all the medical methods available, but it was not her lot in life to bear children. So it came as a wild surprise that when she went to a doctor with complaints of stomach aches that she discovered that she was 6 months pregnant. The miracle baby was born 2 months premature and a few days after her birth, her grandfather passed away.

Life’s cycle seemed to cris-crossing in a furious manner across my relatives in a manner that made very little sense. As my mother was left to come up with reasons as to why they shouldn’t call my great-uncle at the moment, I was left with the task of finding a priest to come and sit with my grandmother and help break the news to her. After some phone calls, a few voice messages, and some waiting I was able to find one with some time to spare between appointments during the day to stop by my house.

He came, we read the Bible and prayed together, and then we told her that her brother had passed away. She did not take it any better than anyone had expected. The day came to a close quickly and quietly. I packed up in order to return to my apartment and said goodbye and then started my hour long drive. An hour spent alone in a car is enough time to mull over a miracle birth, a sudden death, and strange dreams a hundred times over. But the only conclusion I could come to with absolute certainty after an hour of thought is that nothing at all is certain in this world. In a few short days the barren can give birth and those in the best of health can pass away. I may finish typing this post and head to bed and not wake up in the morning. Will I be prepared to meet my Maker? Will I be able to stand before Him with my head held high because I used the time given to me on this planet to live a life that glorified His name? Or will I be overcome by shame for wasting away the gift He has given me? Will I have regrets, things left unsaid, actions left undone?

But now is not the time for questions. It is a time for action, a time to take chances, a time to throw fear out the window and live. This moment may be my or your last (or we may all live to be 99) but there is no certainty, so if it is my last then it must be no less than wonderful. Make peace with everyone, tell those you love how much they mean to you, leave smiles behind you everywhere you go, treat everyone with gentleness and respect.

Today the great-uncle I knew so well in my childhood left my world and a miracle baby entered it–the equation remains even.

I previously left this topic with the open-ended question “So what now?”

 

What does one do in the face of a world full of people spinning around while singing Mariah Carey love songs, people who think you’re insane to not be spinning with them and crooning your favorite Mariah ballad?

 

And my answer to that is “Absolutely nothing.” There is nothing that must be done or worked on or understood. There is only a life to be lived without a singular worry about the who, when, where and why of dating, relationships, and marriage. My personal conceptualization of “taking dating seriously” as I was told I should took some time to form over the 2 years or so from when I was first approached with this proposition. I tried to absorb all the do’s and don’ts being thrown at me from that day forward but none of it made any sense to me. It required too much planning and forethought and calculation—it seemed like one was almost gearing up for a war in which all the single people were mercenaries out to work for themselves. But that’s not how relationships between men and women began. That’s not how the very first relationship ever came into existence.

 

Let’s go back to Adam and Eve for a moment—the world’s first couple. After God had created everything and Adam and allowed Adam to run around exploring the Garden of Eden and naming everything, He saw that “it was not good for man to be alone.” So what did He do? Let’s start with what he didn’t do first. He did not create a bunch of women and have them prance around while Adam got to sit around and pick one. No, His plan was perfect.

 

He took Adam and put him into a deep sleep (basically, He knocked him out.) He took one of his ribs and formed a woman, Eve, and when Adam woke up He took her by the hand and placed them together.

 

There are a few things to be picked out here. First, Adam did not run around frantically searching for someone. Instead, God saw that he needed companionship and decided to give it to him at the exact time in which he needed it (in Adam’s case it was around the time he ran out of things to name.) Then He created for Adam a perfect companion to complement him, drawn partially from his own being. Neither Adam nor Eve had anything to do with it.

 

Thousands of years have passed and God is no longer knocking out men so He can create perfect companions for them out of their ribs (although I’m sure there are those who would prefer it still worked this way.) But the principles of living a life without a worry or a care over this issue can still be taken and applied. There is no need to wage World War III of the Singles Trying to Find a Companion. The only need there is for the individual is to continue living and learning and growing in grace and wisdom—to use the ever popular yet quite applicable cliché, to live, love, and laugh until you find Him leading you by the hand and placing you with someone else. And if it never happens, that’s cool too because you lived, loved, and laughed your way through this world.