And Now for Something Completely Different

Posted: June 18, 2016 in Things of Faith

I’ll begin by confessing to sneaking to watch “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” while myand-now-for-something-completely-different-monty-python parents were either at work or away when I was a child. I suppose the effects of that show have contributed to my sometimes irreverent humor. Anyway, there was a certain bit within the show introduced by the words “and now for something completely different” that broke the train of comic thought and usually led to the utter ridiculous. What makes this so funny is that it is often representative of the life we experience. The irony is dense particularly when we look at the vast contrasts of life on this planet.

At one moment one could be sitting beside a peaceful stream admiring the flying and singing creatures all around while simultaneously in another part of the world people are being killed because of who they are. Such contrasts between beauty and suffering, life and death, joy and deep sorrow are abundant. I once read in a little book written by Gwendolen Greene concerning her uncle, that “Love and joy are the way; for joy without love could have no being: love and joy together, springing up united from suffering here below, rise in adoration to find God.”[1] Von Hügel’s striking statements about suffering and life left me confused and disturbed equally. I resisted his dialectic of suffering and joy. I couldn’t get my mind around statements like, “no joy without suffering.”[2]

In a world where terrorism is an everyday word and where immigrants and refugees are at best feared and at worst detested, how could anyone accept suffering as a way to joy? Ridiculous is not even an appropriate word. It is utterly scandalous to consider such concepts when the depths of suffering are unspeakable. And yet somewhere in my mind his words ring true. What I have come to learn is that while suffering is an effect of the present evil in this fractured world in which we live, von Hügel’s statement can only be acceptably considered from a particular perspective. As he directed his niece even to the last days of his life, he consistently emphasized prayer, suffering, caring, love and joy. Prayer was the practice. Suffering was to be endured as both a result of caring and loving deeply, and as a formative process of the soul being postured in adoration of God through Christ resulting in joy. It was in this sense that he saw love and joy “united from suffering here below.”

What he was instructing was for his niece to love as Christ loved, to care deeply enough to create the vulnerability to suffer—even for others. What is difficult is that in a world where people can go for an evening out only to end up murdered any thought of suffering brings the unbearable pain of loss—loss  of life, loss of joy, loss of love. . . In such a context it is tempting to close ourselves off from others. It is tempting to allow the hatred and violence of this world to infect us with this mortal disease. In the face of such experiences human beings tend to end such times of suffering by further expressions of hatred. We will go as far as necessary to end the suffering even to the point of acts of violence. Such suffering easily gives birth to the faith killing disease of fear. As it is, contemporary society suffers from a terrible case of fear. John in his letter to the church said that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 Jn. 4:16ff).

As difficult as it may seem sometimes, this is precisely why what von Hügel taught his niece is exactly what the church must live out now. Rather than succumbing to the temptation of reacting to such events from a place of fear, followers of Jesus have no choice but to pick up the cross and follow in the way of love that endures suffering. It is certainly not the way of the world which exacerbates these events with bombastic finger pointing avoiding the effects of caring and loving deeply. While these words are essentially easy, what is of most importance is the way that we live in response to these events. Does the Christian life present the world with a different way or is it just another loud voice offering the same message with different words as everyone else? I pretty sure it’s time for something entirely different.

[1] Gwendolen Greene, Letters from Baron Friedrich von Hügel to a Niece (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, LTD, 1928), xlv.

[2] Greene, xliii.

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