This Tuesday, we are reading Chapter 11 “Pity the Afflicted: Restlessness and Revelation” of the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s book Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. If possible, please read this chapter slowly and take the time to think through her message.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
1979 BCP 134
An Arduous Good:
No one desires affliction. Yet, the entire New Testament can be seen as a guidebook for attracting affliction. Jesus told his disciples that they had to take up their cross (an instrument of affliction, torture, and death) and follow him. Matt. 16:24. He says that we are blessed when we are afflicted for his sake. Matt. 5:11. Paul writes often about the afflictions he has experienced for following Jesus. 2 Cor. 1. Paul, James, Peter, and John all write to communities overcome with affliction and large parts of Revelation vividly convey the afflictions suffered by God’s people because they are God’s people.
Rev. Warren writes about how these types of afflictions are part and parcel of the Christian life. For Christians, these afflictions are necessary to achieve an “arduous good.” An arduous good is a good that requires struggle and adversity. It is a treasure buried in a field or a pearl of great price. Matt. 13:44-46. The phrase comes from the Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae 40, where Aquinas writes that the object of hope “must be something arduous and difficult to obtain, for we do not speak of anyone hoping for trifles.” Affliction is a necessary part of our spiritual journey.
Christ Among the Afflicted:
Affliction is also where Jesus is necessarily found. In the Parable of the Last Judgment, Jesus is the afflicted – the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Matt. 25:31-46. In a more contemporary setting, in Richard Beck’s book, The Gospel According to Johnny Cash, we looked at how the great singer/songwriter constantly found Jesus in the presence of and in his songs about marginalized and forgotten people of our society – the imprisoned, the heartbroken, the beaten down, Native Americans, common laborers, and drug addicts. As Rev. Warren writes, the afflicted reveal to us our true state and open us up to allow Jesus to work within us. p.147. The afflicted show us that we are all in need of God’s pity.
The End of Affliction:
Rev. Warren ends this chapter with the lesson that “ultimately our hope is not only that Christ will be found among the afflicted, but that affliction itself will end. . . . When we encounter affliction, we long for a day when everything that is broken – in our bodies, in nature, in relationships, in society, in politics, in policing, in global economics – will be mended and made right.” p.149. In the Parable of the Last Judgment, the sheep are those that went to and served the afflicted. We cannot ask God to pity the afflicted without also joining with him in that work of pity. Our Baptismal Covenant requires nothing less than we too seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. 1979 BCP 305.
“We will not bring heaven to earth. But we can and must push against the darkness, even as we await the dawn.” p.150
Questions and Practices:
Rev. Warren’s suggested questions and practices for chapter 11 are:
l. The author writes, “We often don’t know how to walk with people when the road is long and there will likely be no happy ending.” How have you seen the church care for the afflicted well or fail to do so? How might your own church or community care well for people with chronic and long-term pain or need?
2. The author quotes her friend Steven saying that he wants people to “seek Jesus where he promises to be found,” and she adds that it is often among the poor, the needy, and the afflicted. How have you encountered Jesus in your own affliction or among the afflicted? Can you share what that experience has been like for you?
3. The author discusses how the gospel itself brings affliction to us. Have you seen this firsthand in your own life or someone close to you? How do you or the person you love trust God or struggle with trust in the midst of affliction?
4. The author writes, “Often the most foundational and shaping spiritual practices of our lives are things we’d never have chosen.” Have you found a kind of spiritual formation in parts of your life that were unchosen? How have these unchosen things shaped and formed you, your community, or your view of God?
1. Choose an ascetic practice of some sort. This should be a practice that gives up some kind of comfort or pleasure. You could try fasting, partial fasting (giving up just one item, like meat), getting up extra early, or something else. Try this for a day, a few days, or a week. Journal about or share with your group anything you notice about this time. Are you more attuned to spiritual things? Are you more grumpy or short tempered, more tired or hungry, more sad or anxious?
2. Take stock over a week or a month what things you go to habitually to cheer you up or soothe pain. Write these down and ask yourself what you enjoy, gain from, or get out of these things or experiences. Consider fasting from one for a time (even just for a day) and then coming back to it. How did time away from your creature comfort change how you think about it or interact with it?
3. Spend time with an individual, or volunteer to be with a community, that faces ongoing suffering or affliction. How do you encounter Jesus in this person or people?
4. Commit to praying for an extended season-a month, a quarter, or a year-for a particular community that experiences affliction. Pray that God would pity them, and ask God how he would have you aid the afflicted.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is beef barley vegetable soup. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8.
And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.Matthew 9:10