“Finally, there is another reason, well known to Job, why even good men must drink the bitter cup of temporal adversity: in order that the human spirit may test its mettle and come to know whether it loves God with the virtue of religion and for His own sake.” St. Augustine
A recent reviewer of one of my books wondered if I was depressed when writing it. They were seriously worried for me. I found this kind of touching. I probably was depressed at the time because I borderline always am. I no longer fret about it though. The sounds of train whistles and small planes buzzing in the sky bring me delicious sadness that I’ve learned to embrace.
Suffering is such a big part of the human experience I cannot imagine how to avoid writing about it. I used to worry that my characters were too flawed — yet I am as flawed. I suppose the real worry was (and is) that I’m too flawed. It’s a funny thing though because I’m drawn to and adore really flawed characters, historical figures and Saint Peter in the Bible — not to mention my family.
But there is a delicate balance in life. Little graces abound in times of trouble and those things, even though small, sometimes transport our spirits far more than the big joys on happy days.
I’m drawn lately to the Catholic Church’s view of suffering and how even our sufferings can be offered up to souls waiting around their tombstones for some love. Suffering with purpose makes a world of difference. One word from a friend has brought me back to the Catholic Church this year with all its stupendous flaws and breathtaking beauty.
To walk into a Catholic Church, after years of time spend singing songs in plain white rooms and drinking coffee during sermons, is to walk into a visual, virtual heaven on earth.
When Notre Dame burned my heart burned for Western Civilization with its novels and stained glass and deep theology. The smoke did not blind me to the scandals of the Church (and of all churches and all people). The smoke alerted me to the desert my heart had become.
Why did a Catholic Church burning have any meaning to me? What did it matter to me in America? It made me think of the death of beauty. The death of truth. The death of goodness.
Not that these things are all dead. They sit waiting for us to return to them especially in times of suffering, but we’ve made the atmosphere smoky with lesser things. My adopted daughter takes selfie after selfie to find beauty in herself when the source of beauty comes from being part of a trinity of beauty, goodness and truth. A filter can’t do that.
A year of suffering in ways that some would find trivial made it impossible for me to stomach writing blog posts. I didn’t feel like faking and I didn’t feel like whining or bitterly debating politics. I read from the mystics and the early Church fathers and embraced the beauty and transcendence of the Latin mass at the risk of alienating my husband. I realized that not pushing your ideas upon people too hard really does leave space for reconciliation and grace — especially in marriage.
The suffering of mine took many forms this year as time in a self-imposed desert can do, but it opened up a world of new ideas, of new people — here and in the great beyond, it brought the sacred back.
TRUTH. GOODNESS. BEAUTY. Is there need for anything else?