I'm thinking of all those who have lost loved ones and homes in the storms in the southeast this morning and have been checking in with friends in Alabama and Tennessee--all are okay so far. Thankfully, I have no personal photos of storm damage to share.
Here in Colorado, we have a bright, sunny day. However, in the mountains record snowfall has residents worried about flooding if the snow melts quickly. It reminds me that nature's beauty can also bring about destruction and that we have no (or little with floods) control over weather-born tragedy.
Last night our centering prayer group listened to Dr. James Finley discuss the first Noble Truth of Buddhism--suffering. He pointed out that suffering is in and all around us all of the time. For personal suffering, he emphasized that to let go of or transform our suffering, we must first recognize it. He reminded us that both Jesus and the Buddha recognized early in life that suffering could not be avoided. In our culture, we emphasize happiness and want to ignore suffering, especially the suffering right around us.
That brings me to a realization that came to me as I was discussing my childhood at lunch on Tuesday. My companion kept asking about the minister in the church where I grew up. Didn't he know what was happening in the clandestine meetings that took place in the church basement on occasion? Did he participate, she asked? As we talked, I had to acknowledge that this calm, quiet pastor, who lived with his family in a house at far end of the parking lot, had to have known that something bad was happening. He simply turned a blind eye. In that way, he, too, was a participant in the abuse of small children. It was a difficult realization, one I had chosen not to see.
I have to ask myself what else I haven't wanted to see from those childhood traumas, how much I haven't wanted to own of the damage done to me, and how much damage I have done as a result of what I haven't been willing to see. Looking at our own deep suffering takes courage. Being one with the world means we are part of all suffering--more than I can wrap my arms around. I can extend my heartfelt prayers to the suffering children of this world--whatever may cause their suffering. Our St. John's priests have come to expect that when I read the prayers of the people, I will have inserted a prayer for those suffering children. I hope it reminds others to extend their hearts and prayers too.
Last evening a prayer group member told me of a woman who seemed to be mentally ill coming up to a table of women having coffee and speaking to them in a disjointed way. The prayer group member interacted with this woman in a kind, humane way. When the woman wandered on, the other women in the coffee group commented on how kind she had been to the disturbed woman, as if that was a strange thing to do. Kindness to the suffering stranger--remarkable. What does that say about our community? Would we have taken the time to pay attention and be kind to the disturbed woman? Who is our neighbor--the one we should love as ourselves?
Prayers today for our suffering world--and for those around us whose suffering we do not see.