Sweating Joy in Spite of Suffering

Photograph of the building used by 16th Street...

Photograph of the building used by 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama from 1884 to 1908. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I heard today that some people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy are still without power, without electricity, without heat.

I heard that as I shivered in my car which was warming up. It was 11 degrees outside in Columbus, Ohio, and at least that cold in the Rockaway section of Queens. Some businesses in lower Manhattan are still without heat and power as well; some businesses are boarded up.  A museum which housed American history artifacts is struggling to survive. A wine store in Lower Manhattan lost many of their precious wines.

I feel for the businesses; their not operating means that some families’ income is suffering. Many businesses are still closed.  But is the families without heat and power that I an stuck on, that I can’t stop thinking about. One family was reported to be sleeping on the floor in the kitchen of their damaged home, and living in that kitchen all day long,  because that was the only room in the house where they could get some heat – from the stove. Those crammed in the kitchen included a woman, her children and grandchildren, and three dogs. (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/24/170198110/thousands-still-cold-and-struggling-months-after-superstorm-sandy)

But it’s winter. How will the people survive?

We don’t think much about the victims of horrendous storms or events once the cameras go away.  Bad events tend to be like the labor endured during childbirth; we see the pain portrayed on television and then, like the release of even the memory of labor after a baby is born, we forget. Some might say that we needn’t worry because federal dollars are either there or are coming; the people will be all right.

Maybe. But there’s a good chance many people who are suffering will not be all right, not any time soon. Chances are some of them are angry at the government for not doing more for them, quicker. Some are probably struggling with anger towards God. wondering why God let this bad thing happen to them, good people. Some are probably wondering why, in general, help is so slow in coming. Some probably feel like they are being ignored.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Collins, one of the four little girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, is suffering, and feels ignored.  She survived the bombing incident which killed her sister, but was left scarred, emotionally as well as physically. Even though her life as she knew it was blown to bits that fateful day, she had to go on…but she suffers, still. (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/25/170279226/long-forgotten-16th-street-baptist-church-bombing-survivor-speaks-out) To feel ignored is to suffer…

The families of those who were killed in the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings are still suffering, as are the families of the young people who have been gunned down on the streets of big cities all over this nation. But if we are not near suffering, or have not been touched by it, we tend to minimize its impact, power and resistance to be pushed away. In fact, we forget about it, or worse, refuse to believe it is as deep as it really is.

But back to the families on the East Coast who are enduring this frigid cold spell without heat, I wonder what we who have heat can and should be doing. Something, surely. Do we need to be sending tons of blankets and, what, hats, gloves, coats…? What? The report on National Public Radio (NPR) said that some who are without electricity are waiting for a permit of some kind to restore or repair the electric systems in their houses. ( http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=170267851&m=170267838) We can’t do anything about the permit, but isn’t there something we  can do?

The suffering has so many tentacles. Many homes on the East Coast that are still standing are being devoured by mold. Some houses had standing water for weeks, some for months…and mold started growing like mad, eating the insides of the already damaged homes. Many of their homes will have to be destroyed. Then what?

I have heard and have been taught that when one is suffering the best way to feel better is to serve others. I would bet that some reading this are suffering for one reason or another; suffering is a part of living. The suffering we all go through is bad sometimes, but it can be a catalyst for us to feel better. Some who have endured horrible loss on the East Coast are busy helping to minimize the suffering of others. That is moving.

It is also inspiring. It made me think about ways to serve. There are so many people who need help, who need to benefit from the gifts and blessings that we all have. Perhaps in one’s dark night of the soul, a way to feel better, to see some light, it so help someone else. If we ask what is needed by those suffering, an answer will come.

I thought about President Kennedy‘s famous words this week as I listened to President Obama’s inaugural address. President Obama was stressing the need for us as human beings to make the right and gift of freedom accessible to all. Prior to the festivities of the inauguration, the Obama White House sponsored and pushed a National Day of Service. We, as citizens with certain freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution, were urged to help someone else.  President Kennedy gave a formula for us all to use, in suffering and out of suffering  which gave the same message: serve, when he said,  “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  If we ask what we can do for those worse off than we are, we will get an answer.

In his sermon at the National Cathedral Prayer Service this week, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of  the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, talked about the vision his congregation has to focus and guide their service. They wanted to deal with the root causes of poverty, and decided to concentrate on early childhood education.  They got involved and studied what was going on in those schools. They saw what the children needed. They got involved, as a congregation, donating books, clothing, meals(bagged meals)  for children who seemingly had no food at home.

With our country as polarized as it is, it’s a sure thing and more and more people are feeling marginalized and left out. There are people all over the place who need helping hands and helping hearts. We who have more …just need to give more. If we extend ourselves, our own suffering will recede and will be replaced by deep joy.  It’s a big surprise, what happens when we serve and give. It is as surprising as I was surprised when I began training for a marathon and found out that when one works one’s body, even in the frigid cold, one’s body will react …and will sweat in spite of the temperature.

We can sweat joy even when we are surrounded by our own pain and suffering.

A candid observation …

 

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