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Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Fifteen Verses One Through Five

This morning’s devotion comes to us from Bonnie Poon Zahl. 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…(John 15:1-5, ESV)

The_Tree_Pruner_by_Eric_Oberhauser_Web_I_2012.341145054_stdWhen we think of being “pruned” by God, it’s easy to think of minor cuttings, small challenges that do us good, but perhaps harder to think of the severe changes that might drastically affect our lives in too painful a way.

To the gardener, however, pruning a plant looks like cutting off living branches—taking significant lengths off of a perfectly healthy branch to encourage new growth. This is true of what Jesus is saying, too: being pruned oftentimes feels very painful, as if some large part of you that was once deeply connected to life has been severed. It can feel as though one’s wounds have been left raw to face the elements. It can feel like God has deliberately disconnected Himself, and one’s protests are met only with silence.

We can take heart from Christ’s words: God prunes every branch that doesn’t bear fruit, so that it will be even more fruitful. Every saint who has been “fruitful” has dealt with the emotional loss of having been pruned. The Gardener is lovingly ruthless. He severs parts of our connection to the vine—even connections that do not appear in need of pruning—so that we can bear more. Because He abides in us and we in Him, we can be certain that even the most painful pruning experiences are for the sake of His great love.

The Power of Love – Michel Quoist

A new find for me, but this will not be the last Michel Quoist post. Quoist was a French priest and activist who wrote prayer books in much the same way the psalmists did. That is to say, his prayers are short vignettes and poems about everyday life. They also are not complete prayers–they do not try to “see the whole picture”–which seems to me to be an authentic prayer. One thing seems clear in Quoist’s work: for him there is little distinction between church life and human life, religious and secular. God in Christ moves through suffering and love, and so Christ is everywhere. This one comes from a new collection, Keeping Hope: Favourite Prayers for Modern Living. 

quoist-prayers-480I was called recently to the bedside of a dying man. He was very old and his face was ravaged and distorted by illness and suffering. I watched his wife. She was leaning over him, caressing him and whispering to him such tender words: ‘How beautiful you are, my love, how fine you look!’ I was embarrassed and thought: ‘How can anyone be so blind? Love is blind!’

Then an extraordinary thing happened. As she caressed him, the old man half-opened his eyes and a hesitant smile appeared on his face. He look at his wife a long time and she looked at him. There was a mysterious communion between them. And his smile spread. It was like the sun after a storm. I saw it. I know that I saw what she saw! She was right–the old man, made ugly by suffering, was beautiful. Love is not blind–love lets us see what others do not see.

That woman was guided by love to go beyond the deep wrinkles of her husband’s suffering face and had joined someone who was beyond, far beyond, the body, someone who could not die even if his body were to crumble away in her sight and finally disappear.

Stephen Colbert Loves the Thing He Most Wishes Had Not Happened

Stephen Colbert Loves the Thing He Most Wishes Had Not Happened

It turns out that Stephen Colbert has a sign on his computer that reads, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.” No joke. I tell you this by way of context for what comes next. GQ ran a profile of him this month entitled “The Late, Great Stephen Colbert”, checking in with the comedian (and, according to the article, “one of the country’s few public moral intellectuals”!) before he kicks off his much-anticipated stint as host of The Late Show in September. The article is jaw-dropping. What starts out with a story about Colbert needling Eminem on…

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NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 31:  A man rides in a canoe in high water after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area August 31, 2005 in New Orleans.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Remembering Katrina 10 Years Later

I can hardly believe that it’s been a decade since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. For better or worse, I always think of the storm as a kind of before/after moment in my life. Before I realized that my personal diatribes are mostly useless. Before I understood that my judgment never matters. Before I knew how deeply God loves his creation.

I was standing in my apartment at the University of Mississippi the day after the storm made land. Public radio opened their lines up for people to call in and talk about what was happening as it was happening;…

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Devotions from the 2015 NYC Conference

These gems come from our 2015 conference chaplain Jim Munroe.

Devotions – Jim Munroe from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

ORG XMIT: VTBUR101 In this Tuesday, April 19, 2011 photo, Ashley Koetsier, 21, of Woodstock, Vt., reads about a college student who died by suicide from a small laminated plaque attached to a backpack on the green outside Davis Center at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt.  Active Minds, a student group dedicated to promoting increased dialogue about mental health and incidents and impacts of sucide, placed 1,100 backpacks representing victims, dozens with personal stories of student suicide. (AP Photo/The Burlington Free Press,  Ryan Mercer) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT TV OUT

Penn Faces and Campus Tragedies: More Notes on an Epidemic

Here’s why I didn’t want to write about Julie Scelfo’s recent article “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection” in The NY Times:

It is not because we’ve written about the phenomenon too many times already–though we have. It is because writing about it again only serves to underline how futile-seeming these kinds of reflections are. Who wants to spend an afternoon basking in despair? Or mitigating the despair by placing oneself above it all? It is deeply unpleasant.

This past year Charlottesville witnessed four undergraduate suicides, and I’m not sure I can muster the energy to cartwheel yet again over the…

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In a World of Suffering, the “And Yet”

In a World of Suffering, the “And Yet”

Well, Modern Love’s Daniel Jones is certainly not on vacation. This past Friday’s installment of our favorite relationships column was a heat-seeking missile into the dark depths of marital skepticism. Surprisingly, though, the article does not object to marital skepticism–it normalizes it. Ada Calhoun writes about her own 10+ years of marriage and the difficulties that quickly skimmed off the fluff of most wedding toasts you hear–“I will never let you down,” “You will always be my best friend,” etc. Strangely enough, Calhoun indicates the inherent optimism of these kinds of toasts as part of the problem. We feel entitled to their sentiments, so much so…

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David Brooks Goes to the Basement

David Brooks Goes to the Basement

A buzzword like “character” could mean just about anything you want it to mean. Like a lot of reclaimed, lofty words from Ancient Greece or Rome — virtue, beauty, culture — character has picked up a lot of fuzz along the way, enough to become a proverbial lightning rod for just about any self-help guru and pop academic and thought-leader under the sun. Which is why David Brooks’ newest title, The Road to Character, did not exactly grab me like the earlier Bobos in Paradise. It sounded too much like the kind of book a dad pushes on an eighteen-year-old graduate. Or an HR executive plants in her office giftbags.

But Brooks is…

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Why Richard Rodriguez and I Keep Taking Our “Inner Atheists” to Church

Why Richard Rodriguez and I Keep Taking Our “Inner Atheists” to Church

Maybe novelty is the currency of the blogosphere—but then again, maybe not. Sometimes the brightest-shining gems come out of an old closet at your grandparents’ house (or in this case, an old box of $1 books at a library sale).

It may be old (we’re talking last decade—you know, back when Pluto was a planet and “the Facebook” still had an article in front of it), but Richard Rodriguez’s essay “Atheism Is Wasted On the Nonbeliever” deserves to be talked about. Especially by those who claim to believe in something. Or are claimed by something to believe in, of whom I…

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Hikikomori and a Global Word of Grace

Hikikomori and a Global Word of Grace

Back in 2013, we mentioned a disturbing cultural trend in Japan in one of our weekenders, where culturally disenfranchised youth become shut-ins. The official Japanese word for these shut-ins is Hikikomori- and while examples of this have been observed in other places around the world (including Italy, the US, and South Korea), in Japan, the trend has become a cultural phenomenon. For a multitude of reasons, Hikikomori give up on human interaction, choosing to cloister themselves away from the world rather than interact in it.

The Hikikomori phenomenon is worth bringing up again because new studies suggest that as much as…

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From the Magazine: Heavy Loads in the Happy Workplace

From the Magazine: Heavy Loads in the Happy Workplace

Another look back at the Work and Play Issue. This one covering the history of happiness came from Ethan Richardson.  

“It wasn’t just about building a business. It was about building a lifestyle that was about delivering happiness to everyone, including ourselves.”

So says Tony Hsieh, internet entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and CEO of Zappos.com. Hsieh is the author of the bestseller Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose and has just spent the last three years on his most ambitious venture yet. It is called the Downtown Project, a redevelopment ‘Techtopia’ in the middle of downtown Las Vegas—a $350…

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The Final Confession of Donald Draper

The Final Confession of Donald Draper

Spoilers, people, spoilers.

“I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name and made nothing of it.”

Thus goes the bottoming out we’ve been waiting for these past 7-8 years from Don Draper. His long dismantling, both self-instigated and otherwise, reached its endpoint in Mad Men‘s finale. Don’s marriage, his position, his children are gone–the various phone calls make that clear. Even his “niece” Stephanie refuses to let him be needed, going so far as to remove his last shred of agency, stranding him at the retreat center. Reduced to nothing, Don makes his confession to…

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