Good That Can Come from Suffering

20 03 2012

 A Lenten Devotional by Walter Wangerin ©1987 

I have the terrible memory of a night—late, late at night—when I crept from bed and found my mother washed in tears.  She sat on the floor, her head bowed, her sobs so low and hopeless that I could conceive of nothing which would cause such grief.  My world was crumbling; my mother was crying.  I took myself to bed again, and cried alone, and did not understand.

By morning a change had occurred in me.  In her, too:  her face was flat; her eyes were hollow.  “Mama,” I whispered in horror:  “I lost my laugh and don’t know where to find it.”  I felt distinctly the absence of laughter in my stomach, a trauma as cruel as losing my right hand or my sight. 

What I meant, of course, was that I had lost joy.  And I believed that the best expression of joy was barking, spontaneous laughter.  I assumed that sorrow and joy were enemies, opposites:  one displaced the other.

I was wrong on at least two counts.

After several days of silent sadness, my mother came of her own accord into my midnight bedroom.  She sat on the side of my bed and was quite a while.  She knew I was awake.  I knew that she knew.

Then she put her right hand on my cheek and softly began to sing:  “müde bin ich, geh zu ruh.”  The hymn was very familiar to me.  I responded.  We sang that melody to English words—“Now the light has gone away; Father, listen while I pray”—but we sang it as we never had before.  I sobbed in the singing.  I closed my eyes and dwelt in the hymn and swelled with a peace that was sweetened by sorrow, sorrow suffered, sorrow overcome:  “—now my evening praise I give; Thou didst die that I might live—“

I discovered two things, then in a child’s unconscious manner:  that the better noise to give to joy is not the hollow laugh, the meaningless spasm of laughter, but rather the song that understands itself.  Sing praise to the source of joy.  Sing with that source a duet, close harmony between the lover and the beloved.  I loved my mother, who had made me glad.  Better to sing with her and know the song, than to giggle a giddy glee.

 And the second thing: when the sorrow is holy, it doesn’t cancel joy.  Rather, it prepares for joy.  The joy that “rises” out of sorrow has a foundation as deep as the preliminary sorrow was deep and is unshakeable. 

This, then is the fourth good reason for reliving the passion of the Lord:  that we prepare for joy.  If the passion is truly observed, we shall not come to Easter seeking a mindless happiness, a mere emotional high.  This joy “arises” out of sorrow—a sorrow that seems for a while, to fill the universe, but prepares for Easter joy.

Prayer:  Jesus, come again.  You need never suffer again.  That was done once and for all.  But come and remind me of the suffering, so that I remember the purer joy of your rising after all. Amen.

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