“The sound of rain is the sound of the sea.” So a Tongan nurse explained to me, quoting the wisdom of her foremothers as she cared for me back in January during Sydney’s big wet.
I told her that as a child I thought less of the sea and more of the heavens crying when I heard such heavy rain.
Were the heavens crying for me and others who were sick or suffering in some other way at that time? Does God in his heavens care about the likes of us? Or is he indifferent to the difficulties of human beings?
Many a person who suffers is tempted precisely to that conclusion. For some indeed, the mystery of evil, especially evil suffered innocently, can be like a reef on which their faith is wrecked…
There is a story of Teresa of Avila on the way to make her last foundation, in Burgos. By now she was old and sick and tired, but had lost none of her feistiness.
At Paso de los Pontones the river was in flood and the sisters were understandably terrified.
Teresa assured them that God would look after them as they proceeded to cross – and all nearly drowned! When Teresa recovered she called out to God: “Lord, when will you stop putting obstacles in our path?”; to which she heard God’s reply: “Don’t complain, dear daughter: I always treat my friends this way.” Quick as a flash, Teresa responded “No wonder you have so few friends.”
What God was teaching Teresa was, of course, that she must trust only in Him and be patient with Him.
For all of us that can be a hard lesson to learn. We can be impatient about getting our own way. We want to achieve our projects on time, in double quick time. We don’t want to delay doing the good we could do and should do.
But we Christians know that our vocation is to be God’s instruments in the world, to make God’s will our will, to make God’s time our time. And that means that our sense of what is important and urgent will sometimes be subverted by the action of God’s grace in our lives.
I recognise in myself a certain impatience. I want things done quickly and well. I ask a lot of myself and of those who work beside me. I have great hopes for the Church in Sydney, in Australia and throughout the world.
But, of course, my recent sickness has forced me to slow down. It has forced a pause of four months so far, and possibly for some time to come.
Though I have been gradually getting better, I still have a way to go. I could respond to this with feelings of anger or depression, with expressions of frustration or grief.
Probably, at one time or another, I have experienced all these things. But mostly, I have had a very strong sense of God’s hand, God’s friendship, God’s will for me in my life, and that has meant that I can trust, I can be peaceful, I can “let go and let God”.
We all sympathise with those who said at the end of the Holocaust of World War II that God was dead to them.
And yet we know that it can be precisely when we are at our lowest ebb, most fragile, most in need that we reach out to a force greater than ourselves and experience ourselves being buoyed up by it, by Him.
It’s only when they hit rock bottom that many people reach out to God that they find themselves lifted up, held close, kept safe. Faith doesn’t quarantine us from the things that people without faith suffer. But it may mean that we respond to those events in our lives differently.
It does mean that we can have great confidence that when our turn to suffer comes that we, too, will be carried through it and maybe even grow through it. We may come to see that through the sacrifice of Christ our little sacrifices can somehow be fruitful.
Not that we are masochists wishing suffering on ourselves or sadists wishing it upon others.
Nor are we immune to the sheer mystery of suffering.
But both the bad times and the good, instead of being meaningless can be opportunities for wonder and awe, for experiencing great beauty and flourishing. That Christ rose on the Third Day liberates us to treasure “the grace of the present moment”, without being always anxious that our life is slipping away. It allows us to let go of the obsession with control that is behind so much of the violence of our world.
It means we can model to the world a community in which people of many kinds co-exist and collaborate, as neighbours and as friends, living respectful of each other and at peace.
It enables us to hand over the future of ourselves and our world in trust to the loving hand of God – the God who came that we might have life, life to the full, eternal life (Jn 4:14; 5:24; 10:10; 11:25).
And it enables us to know that even in the midst of the lows of our lives, there can be a quiet joy, a gentle confidence, a hard-earned trust.