The above picture is from one of the churches I am currently serving. This stained glass portrait of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane takes us nearly the whole north wall of the worship center. It is old, well-made, and very inspirational. This picture is a visual story of spirituality, suffering and sorrow.
In an age of health and wealth gospels and moral therapeutic deism, there is not much attention paid to a faith that can willingly embrace an intimacy with God (my definition of spirituality) while one is experiencing suffering and sorrow. However, suffering and sorrow are two distinct realities every human being will face.
Today, I attended the morning prayer service at a local Anglican church. It was a small group that gathered. As each person entered, they briefly knelt before the alter and then took their seats. It was difficult for one of the people to carry out this act. Obviously it was painful, but I could tell it was very important to them. Even in their pain, their desire was to show reverence to the Lord who died for them.
I am learning more about pain and suffering and spirituality personally this year that I ever have before. I do not like it when people ask me how I am. I don’t want to lie and it is hard for me to think they really want my truthful answer. I have had hard times before. I have suffered from grief before, but never with the soul crushing anguish that can creep up on me at any time. I have always been quite physically able to do whatever was needed. Now, I am thankful if I can get out of bed without feeling like I will collapse.
I have also learned a lot about God during these times of sever stress and physical pain. God knows these experiences much more than I and God does care. God knows exactly how I feel and when things seem their bleakest, God provides consolation. Sometimes the consolation is just the ability to pray. Other times it is an act of love and/or affection from my soulmate or a contact that affirms my life has had value to others. Then there are other times when God’s very presence fills me with awe and a closeness beyond the ability to express in words.
God does keep divine promises, “Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.” (Isa. 41:10 CEB)
To this I say, “Abba, Father,” Amen.