Befriending our pain

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

“Compassion literally means to feel with, to suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it’s uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing – resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings.” Joanna Macy

LGBTQ+ people around the world experience exclusion, economic insecurity and violence because of who they are. While it is essential to eradicate the external narratives that threaten the civil rights of queer people, we must also attend to painful internalized narratives often formed by or hiding behind religious beliefs. I am regularly swept up in a cascade of tears when I hear of yet another queer child of God suffering at the hands of the church.

If not for Jesus, I might’ve never learned that lamentations are part of our sacred narrative. 

One of the most surprising moments of the Gospel is when we witness Jesus weeping before raising Lazarus from the dead. If we take the Lazarus story at first glance, we might be satisfied with a miracle story, the exhibition of God’s power in the incarnation of Jesus. Is this the whole meaning of this story? Perhaps.   

The culture of mourning explored throughout the bible – the highly ritualized wailing and mourning is the state in which Jesus finds the community when he finally arrives in Bethany. Martha is bold – “Where were you? You could have stopped this!” Jesus is clear and resolute with Martha that her brother will live again this day, not in the end times but today. But, when Jesus encounters Mary, and the throng of mourners he is greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  Jesus, our God revealed, weeps. Jesus, who knew he would raise his friend from death, wept.

Without the Lazarus story I might be ashamed of my own tears.

As Thomas Merton puts it, “Jesus is the theology of the Father, revealed to us.” Jesus, fully God and fully human, is our best chance to understand God.  So, what does it tell us about God when Jesus weeps?  The Gospel of John gives us a picture of Jesus was fully aware and intent – in control of every aspect of His ministry including his own crucifixion.  So why on earth would Jesus weep if he knew for certain that his beloved friend would live again this day?  Could it be that Jesus was simply moved to tears by the overwhelming scene of mourning with Mary clinging to his feet in despair?  Yes, that is part of it – for Mary could not see beyond her despair – Mary who could not grasp hope even as she clung to the very presence of God. 

The grief that took hold of Jesus, that took hold of God, tells us about God’s compassionate heart for sharing our suffering, from the very beginning and in every moment of our human being.  

The true miracle of the Lazarus story is that God took into God’s self the depth of our suffering in a new way – and wept.

The practices I lift up here will be invitations to honor the pain you have felt, do feel and may feel again. When we befriend our pain, we give ourselves and others the gift of compassionate hearts.

God of the water and light, hold in your heart

these things released unto you.

Grant me radical hope in the promise of love

stronger than past, present or future suffering. 

Embolden my heart to cooperate with you

In embracing the shimmering rainbow of your grace.

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