Prayer in the Night – Soothe the Suffering: Comfort, pt.2

Tonight, we are discussing Chapter 10 “Soothe the Suffering: Comfort” 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.

The Prayer:

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

Facing the Darkness:

When we suffer, we all want to be comforted. Rev. Warren writes that “what we go to for comfort is eventually what we worship. It becomes our God.” p.130. This comfort can be as extreme as narcotics or alcohol or as seemingly innocuous as the internet, Netflix, exercise, or food. She points out that each of us has our addiction(s) that simply allows us to push our suffering further down the road. What we are looking for is not that our suffering is soothed but that it is numbed. She quotes a song by the indie rock band Arcade Fire “Creature Comfort” where the chorus implores “God, make me famous/If You can’t, just make it painless.”

Suffering, however, cannot be overcome by numbing. Suffering is overcome through the Cross. It is overcome by facing the darkness and feeling the sadness, the loss, and the loneliness. In suffering, we drink the same cup as Jesus did. See, Matt. 20:22. We all need to “learn to face the pain we are avoiding.” p.133. One of the purposes of a Lenten discipline of foregoing certain things is that we forgo our addictions that push suffering down the road so that we face our suffering with Christ. As the Christian rock band Evanescence sings in “ Feeding the Dark: “Don’t look away/Let the light pour down on our darkest day/If we run to find ourselves we will run forever.”

Soothe the Suffering:

“We ask God to ‘soothe the suffering.’ We don’t ask him to placate the suffering with cliches.” p.135. We look to God as a comforter, a nurturer, and a healer. But healing always seems to take place longer than it should. Suffering is rarely over in an instant. There is seldom a quick fix. However, the benefit of holding fast to our suffering and our God as our Comforter is that our suffering is soothed as we make our way through our suffering. The result of our facing of our darkness and suffering is, as Andrew Sullivan writes, the very recovery of our humanity.

In soothing our suffering, Jesus does not make us stronger. He may not even take away the cause of the suffering itself. But the promise he gives us is that in facing our suffering he will make it known that his grace is sufficient for us and that his power is made perfect in our weakness. 2 Cor. 12:9.

Questions and Practices:

Rev. Warren’s suggested questions and practices for chapter 10 are:

1. The author discusses how moonflowers grow only at night. Are there particular parts of the spiritual life that “grow only at night”? What have you found growing in your own life during times of struggle or hardship?

2. The author describes the difference between the “theology of glory” and the “theology of the cross.” Are there areas in your life where you have an implicit theology of glory? How about in our culture more generally?

3. In what ways have you known God as a comforter? How is that comfort similar to or different from what you naturally expect or think about comfort?

4. Do you agree that as a culture we rush to get over grief? Do you rush through your own suffering? Where do you see signs of this in your own life or in the surrounding culture?

Dinner is at 6. The menu is tomato soup and grilled cheese. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., Patient Trust

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