Walk in the Way of Suffering

Almighty and everlasting God, in your tender love for us you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and come to share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I recently finished a novel based on true events in Japan in the 1700s, where priests from Portugal and Spain were tortured along with peasant Christians. The people in power did not believe Christianity could or should “take root” in the soil where Buddhism was already well planted. The scenes could not be further removed from my daily experiences and, at times, I struggled to reconcile the lives of the characters who suffered with my life that was saturated by comfort.

I am a product of majority Western culture, which boasts a painful history of comfort-seeking and self-preserving (and often at the expense of others). Culture is a thorough guide, too. It not only provides comforts, it also provides the justification to get lost in them. Whenever discomfort shows itself, I can choose to hide inside layers of security and food and diversions.

As a parent, I know our kids are formed by the things they see and do and the rhythms in their lives. And because much of their formation is happening under our direction, they are a mirror showing me where I’ve been malformed. They watch me respond in anger to their request or pause in patience and meet them at eye level. They have a front row seat to the person I have become, a person who responds to discomforts in a particular way. All the forming and malforming that has happened is invisible, but the response in the moment has everything to do with what they cannot see.

Andy Crouch wrote beautifully in “The Life We’re Looking For” about the evolution of the musician. It used to be that, in order to hear the compositions of Bach, you would have to be in the room with someone who had become the type of person who could sit down at a piano and play the notes on the page. If you did not have access to such a person, you would not be able to hear the beauty of this music.

I used to sit as a young girl, squished next to my mom on the piano bench in our big farmhouse, flipping the pages of Bach pieces and urging her to play just one more. I remember watching her fingers (I’ve got the same, tiny hands) and wondering at the mastery of it. It would always take several pages of starts and stops before she was able to play freely and the music room was filled with the sound. My mom is one of those people who has become the type of person who could sit down at a piano and play Bach.

You could insert whatever example of mastery here, from anywhere in the world. The idea is that one doesn’t wake up one day able to master a skill. Even prodigies are students first. One has to become the type of person who can play a piece of music or perform a dance or throw a pot or score a goal. One becomes the type of person who can do a certain thing by way of long, intentional formation. One would practice for hours, receive instruction and correction, and be immersed around others who have already been formed in that way.

Now, we come to the Collect for this week and I hear us all praying “mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering” and I feel my heart ache with the dissonance of it. In order to pray honestly that God would in His mercy grant that I may walk in his suffering footsteps, I must become the type of person who seeks to love and obey God above all other things. I must be formed in the image of the Son and be re-formed out of habits and rhythms and desires that are centered on my comfort.

I’m not there yet. The invisible shaping that has malformed me means I want comfort. I want to be insulated from hurt and discomfort. But as I pray this prayer with the Church, I acknowledge that God already knows all that has been formed and malformed in me. And, though I may never be asked to suffer torture at the hands of men, God in His mercy can form me into the type of person who is ready to say yes to the suffering and resurrecting that God places in my path.

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