I was on vacation in Door County, sitting inside the cottage on the futon looking outside, out the sliding glass door, at two cedar waxwings poking the ground with their mouths. I was noticing their striking yellow tipped tails when all of a sudden one of the birds dashed into the air and flew straight into the sliding door. When he struck the glass there was a loud “thud,” and he landed on the stoop below. He shook his head but then just stood there motionless, probably in shock. I let him recover for a few minutes but then I thought it might help to nudge him back to life, if he was able to fly. So I opened the door and thankfully he flew off.
The moment I was looking at these beautiful creatures and noticing their exquisite features was also the same moment that tragedy struck, though fortunately (as far as I know), the tragedy wasn’t fateful. Beauty and tragedy happened simultaneously, and quickly.
I have sought and experienced God in life in peacefulness, tranquility, and beauty, but I haven’t experienced God much in the ugly, suffering, tragedy that happens in everyday life. I’ve been aware of this for a while but I was forced to confront it head on when this spring a tragedy occurred in my church. My bishop was involved in an accident where a woman was struck and killed, and he faces serious criminal charges. Two weeks prior to the accident, my bishop was leading a group of youth through India walking the streets of Calcutta and visiting Mother Teresa mission sites. This was a tragedy of enormous
Where is God in this magnitude of tragedy? I don’t think of God as having creation on puppet strings or as one that intervenes to prevent tragedy. But where is God? Philip Simmons, diagnosed with ALS at age 35, says there are two ways to seek God. The first way fixes on images of beauty and perfection, shunning all that is evil and ugly. The second way, the dark way, is the path of imperfection and suffering. He says that out of necessity, he became a seeker of the second way. “We have all had our magic moments, when we
enter the forest clearing where dragonflies dance and sunlight descends as a kind of grace. But we know such bright moments only because of the darkness that surrounds them. The clearing needs the forest, and I’ve learned to be thankful for its shadows.” *
I have been a seeker of God in beauty, stillness, tranquility. And I will continue to seek God in this way, and I understand some of the underlying reasons for this. But another way of experiencing God is calling me. The tragedy with my bishop was so horrific that it shook my faith foundation, and it made it difficult to sit through worship without crying. But
gratefully with the guidance of a spiritual director and some friends, I was able to come to my own understanding of where God is present in suffering. God abides with us. God is there IN the suffering, dwelling in our midst and in the suffering and pain. God isn’t just there to console us or give comfort in times of suffering, but God is there in the suffering itself. God is in the very act of suffering. And as a Christian, I know this mostly because of Jesus. In the very horrid details of Jesus’ death, God was there. God suffered too at the
death of his son, and God’s suffering is probably more immense than our human minds can ever comprehend.
There is beauty and tragedy in the world and in our everyday lives. I know they’re both in my world and they’re probably in yours as well. God is in the midst of it all if only we can glimpse the one delighting with us and suffering with us.
*Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, by Philip Simmons.