Saturday, March 13, 2010

Transform or Transmit

One of Richard Rohr's most memorable statments, to me, is "If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it."

I may have written about this before; I think I first heard it when we were studying one of his books in Lectionary class, in church. It resonated within me, because I've seen it played out in people's lives many times. Angry, bitter children become angry, bitter adults. Children who were abused become parents who are abusive, and so on.

When Katie was diagnosed with cancer, my personal pain was excruciating, and alot of it was rooted in my fear that she might die. The pain of having to leave home, live in a hospital, adjust to the lack of privacy and stresses of a totally foreign way of living were relatively easy to cope with; it was the possibility that she might die at any moment that was really hard to endure. As time went on, my pain was also due to her suffering during her treatment. Then, it became interwoven with her dying, and the excruciating unavoidability of having to live without her. To have known Katie, to have loved her and been loved by her, and then to be required to live without her, is a cause of great suffering in our family.

I did not want this pain to be transmitted to others, and I still don't. I want God to use it, to transform it into something useful for Himself and for the world.

"Question of the Day:  How have I seen God use pain for good in my life?
"Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all must 'die before they die.' Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as 'whenever you are not in control.'

"If religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, humanity is in major trouble. All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. Great religion shows you what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust.

"If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

"If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somewhere in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down. The natural movement of the ego is to protect itself so as not to be hurt again. The soul just wants meaning, and then it can live." - Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 25, by Richard Rohr

One of the blessings of walking a spiritual path is receiving tools that can help us with that transformation. Having access to the words and lives of others who have walked before us helps me to learn ways to be honest, to wrestle with God - and with the way things are - without fearing His anger, or abandoning Him. I don't know where I'd be today without that path.
Recently, I received an email from a writer-cousin whose daughter died many years ago, after being hit by a drunk driver (I've mentioned B.J. here before). Her daughter, Ruth's, accident and subsequent death from injuries occurred in February. Being Jewish, B.J. and her family have grieved according to their individuality, and according to their religious customs. She recently wrote a poem about this. Since I lean heavily toward the Catholic faith, her poem and her words about it were illuminating to me on many levels:  as a mother, a mother in grief, many years after Ruth's passing, and in the way that her Jewish understanding and spirituality is interwoven with her feelings. I asked her permission to publish it here, and she has granted it.
 May all who grieve receive the light and power of Love, to transform their pain, rather than transmit it.
"I wanted to share with you a poem I wrote February a year ago, when the English date of the crash that took Ruth's life and the biblical portion that includes the splitting of the Red Sea happened to coincide. ..The term 'keriat hayam' is Hebrew for splitting of the sea. At a Jewish funeral, the immediate mourners (immediate family) tear their clothes as a symbol of their ripped hearts. The term 'keriat halev' translates as 'splitting/tearing of the heart.' The Seder, as you probably know, is the Passover meal; the Haggadah is the book that contains the order, the readings, prayers, psalms, etc.  Love,  B.J."

Two Lifetimes by B.J. Yudelson

With the brilliance of a comet
Ruth streaked through our lives
for fourteen years
minus one week,
gone now two weeks short of
twenty-eight years,
twice the length of her
effervescent life.
“With a mighty hand,
with an outstretched arm,”
God blasted Egypt with plagues,
one for each finger, says the Hagaddah,
times five for God’s great hand at the Sea,
times four for the fury, rage, trouble
and messengers of evil that accompanied
each pestilence. Ten plagues became fifty,
fifty became two hundred.

One lifetime became
two lifetimes of loss.

Where was God’s protective hand
when the driver wrapped his
ten inebriated fingers
around the wheel that steered into
Ruth and her friends,
splitting our lives,
rending our spirits?

We read the story of
Keriyat hayam, how
God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm
tore nature in two and
split the sea.

Two lifetimes ago
we tore our garments
to match our broken hearts.
Keriyat halev
is written with permanent ink
on the fragile parchment of our souls.
The rabbis tell us that to save
one life is to save the world.
Where were God’s outstretched hands,
with ten fingers, or fifty, or two hundred,
to steer the car and save the world
that Sabbath eve two weeks short of
twenty-eight years ago?
Couldn’t God spare even one finger
to stay that evil man’s free will?
Two lifetimes ago
times all the lives
ripped and shredded and torn in two
by careless, drunken fingers.
We piece together our
fury and despair,
our sorrow,
our darkened dreams,
to create a new life,
stitched with love for Ruth,
going on for Ruth,
like Ruth,
instead of Ruth,
whose single lifetime
ended two lifetimes ago.
An infinity of lifetimes ago.
Or yesterday."

B.J. Yudelson is a retired writer for not-for-profit agencies and an active volunteer in Rochester’s Jewish community. Her favorite role is that of “Grandma” to her nine grandchildren.

Reprinted from the spring 2010 edition of Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union.


Elizabeth said...

I woke this morning and read Rohr's words and admit that in the last few days I've struggled with his posts. The resonant one, though, is the one that talks of NOT transmitting pain, something that I struggle with or at least the knowledge of that power that I might have. Thank you for explaining how these words affect you. And the poem? Oh, how can I add words to such a powerful testament? I won't but be grateful for it, instead.

Anonymous said...

Funny you should bring this up about the transforming pain. Saw my acupuncturist last week and she was saying the same thing -- though more about transforming negative energy into something more positive.

Makes sense. How to do this is a completely different matter.

Busy Bee Suz said...

What a thougthful post Karen.
I love B.J's writing...
hugs, Suz

Lakeland Jo said...

Very helpful post

Maggie May said...

It is hard to read that poem.

Mary Potts said...

Too many of us, torn by having to watch our children suffer and die...
I CHOOSE to transform. And it is hard work every day, but it is worth the struggle.

deb said...

it struck me while reading this, that I have been guilty of wanting to transmit my pain. Sometimes for the strange sense of community , sometimes because I feel that someone isn't suffering or grieving enough or properly. Sometimes it feels like an action, rather than emptiness.

Losing a child would , I hope, tear such a divide in my soul that I would know to transform or perish and drag others into darkness as well.

Karen said...

Wow, I love that poem. It's true and powerful. The unanswered questions, the longing for the beloved, the loss of what might have been, and the going forward despite the loss.

I appreciate your post. It is really "meaty"--good food for thought. I know I've made the choice to transform rather than transmit. Don't know exactly how to do that and so I continue to ask God to do His work in me. I feel so weak. One day, I will arrive at the golden gates and then I will know if what I hope for happened. I will say this for now: I am a changed person, and my capacity for compassion and mercy has grown. That's one good result from suffering.

Anonymous said...

I just LOVE seeing pictures of Katie - she has such a bright light in her eyes - thinking of you guys!!

Angie Muresan said...

God bless you, Karen. And may He grant you peace. I cannot imagine going through what your family did.