The morning was warm and sunny so there were families out with their children and it had one of those "God's in His heaven, all's right with the world" feelings about it but sadly the lie was given to this by a woman weeping bitterly as she sat alone on a bench.
Hubby approached gently and asked if she was alright and if there was anything we could do. She assured us twice that there was nothing, and that she was alright, so we passed on,
Grief or pain of any sort is such a private thing in our culture. I guess that I sometimes ere on the side of not wanting to intrude in case of causing greater hurt by that very intrusion, yet it always seems right to give the opportunity for that grief or pain to be shared, whether any practical help can be given or not.
Yesterday we were looking for a new washing machine and the woman attending us began to tell me about the weekend she had in front of her, and the fact of her father's long battle with Alzheimer's before his death last week.
Leaning on the top of one of the machines in the store she talked about prayer and the difficulty of faith in the face of suffering, as well as her straightforward relationship with God. She told me, as people in this country so often do, that she is a believer but sees no need of the church to re-enforce her faith, and that she can pray anywhere, which of course she can.
Thinking of that conversation, during which I mainly listened and prayed, I recalled other conversations, some in shops, pubs, wherever, when prayer and belief in God were talked about. Some of the time I was part of the talk, some of it I merely overheard. Often the fact of suffering is brought up. Sometimes the church is mentioned, but often as a peripheral thing to the general understanding, and of course not always in a complimentary why.
It makes me sad, because as imperfect as the church is, and as much as I too have suffered at the hands of the imperfect people (like me!) who make up the church, I have also found it a place rich in love, healing, and acceptance.
Perhaps because I came to faith outside the church structure myself, my on-going quarrel with the church is this strange sense to be found within it's folds that it somehow owns God, and is therefore the sole dispenser of grace. My own experience and theological studies have only served to convince me that God is alive, active, and not solely dependent on the offices of the church as some seem to believe.
But what about the vexed question of where is God when we hurt, and just how can the notion of a loving God be squared with the deep suffering all around us in this beautiful and terrifying world?
For me the image of the Christ who enters our suffering to the depths of his being, transforming it by rising to new life beyond it, is the only sense I can make of it. Such a God, in my experience can understand, and meet me in my own place of pain whatever that may be, and transformation can happen for me too.
If such a notion is alien to you, I offer the picture from a tree in the park. As the sap of the tree crystallizes on the cone it seems to be weeping, yet the tree continues to flourish and grow.
Should pain or weariness of spirit be part of your life at present, may you be strengthened to grow through and beyond it, to new healing and peace.