Wednesday, March 31, 2010

what sticks

What sticks in my throat is that God gets the credit but never the blame.

-- Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow

Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, but he wouldn’t. “Shall we receive the good, and not the bad?” he said, and nothing more.

Then his friends came to comfort him, and they waited seven days for him to speak. When he spoke, it was more than they could bear. “The arrows of the Almighty are in me;” he said, “My spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.” The Scripture says that Job spoke truly when he said this, for God was indeed the author of his grief and of his suffering. Flabbergasted, his friends fought with him, leaving us timeless texts in how not to counsel grief, until God had to come down and sort the whole thing out, this thing that God had started in the first place, and for the most unworthy of motives.

I sat with a woman by the deathbed of her daughter, whom she had put through a private school and assisted through college by the work of her hands. This mother had born three children to a shotgun marriage with a man who raped her, abused her, and then abandoned her after the sons grew up. The daughter was her youngest child.

“We’re with the Lord,” she says.

Where was the Lord when you were raped? I’m thinking.

“We accept the Will of God.”

And Whose Will is it, that we should watch our innocent children die?

“I know she’s going to a better place.”

I hope so, I’m thinking. A place not ruled by insecure middle-management deities, who put us to suffering to see how much we love them.

“She keeps me going, she’s my pride and my joy.”

Job’s wife is my confidant. I think this mother might have to curse in order to survive. Curse God and live.

But she doesn’t curse. She is grateful for what she has had, for a chance to love, and an opportunity to rise above adversity. Has she worked through her anger, or never admitted it? “I don’t know how I’ll get on without her,” she says. And this is what concerns me.

Some people need to rage. If she needs to rage, I can send her to Job, who drew up the grandest and most complete indictment of God’s universe. He cursed the day he was born. He named God as his persecutor. He summoned God to a courtroom, to give account. Job never gave up his demand for justice. If this was God’s will, then there had to be someone else up there to talk to. “I know that my advocate lives.”

Those who speak without irony of the “patience of Job” never read beyond the second chapter. There are forty other chapters. The story shows that you can’t just decide to “receive the bad,” merely because you received “the good.” It’s not that simple.

“Everything happens for a reason,” some say. You don’t have to be Christian, or a believer of the Book, to say it. It’s an instinctive expression of hope. We’ll get through this. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Every cloud has a silver lining.

But when you’re grieving, there is no meaning to it. Your viscera have been torn out, and you have no strength, and you can’t stand up because there’s nothing to hold on to. You’re on your own, collapsed in the road, violated and unengaged and unattached.

Sooner or later, somehow, most of us find ourselves walking again, going somewhere, toward something, with someone. We’re heading in some direction or other, and the direction of our movement is its meaning. But the meaning comes from now, not then. We make the meaning now by moving again. And then we retroject that meaning: “Oh! That’s why it had to happen;” we say, or “So that was God’s purpose.” But it wasn’t the purpose, of God or anyone else. It’s the meaning of now, the stir of your blood, the tingling of your breath, your recovery and your survival. Sometimes we suffer before there is meaning again, but that doesn’t mean that the suffering had meaning. It proves that we make something out of nothing.

It’s not for me to direct this mother. I cannot make her rage, just because I would. If she starts to tend that way, I can name it, and show her the tradition of rage at divinity, the healing and the blessing that may come after. Is she in denial or in transcendence? I’ll have to observe her. In the meantime, she teaches me.

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