Monday, January 31, 2011

Man in the fire

Our culture is unusual in that we are continually surprised by suffering, in contrast to others throughout history that expected life to be a journey filled with sorrow and pain. By willfully ignoring the obvious and the inevitable, we miss the blessing of hope and promise that often rises out of the ashes. Our spiritual development is stunted. As Reynolds Price wrote in "Letter to a Man in the Fire":

Poets more ancient than Aeschylus have hymned the awful paradox that humankind can apparently only advance through suffering; but no one has cut that paradox in deeper letters than Aeschylus. “It is God’s law that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

The harder the life lesson the more quickly we seek distraction from it. It's difficult to discover very much about ourselves when this turning aside from suffering and pain has become such an engrained cultural habit. From pain comes wisdom: How peculiar that it takes an ancient Greek tragedian to point out truth that is so conspicuously woven into modern life and so studiously ignored.

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