Qutub Minar, New Delhi
I’ve been in New Delhi for the past week.
Filled with impressions of my past, most especially the persons closest to me throughout my life, who I loved, but who also inflicted terrible emotional scars on me, I am repeatedly left with the questions Christ posed us upon the cross.
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” He said.
This question I have posed myself, the question of how to “love one another as Christ loved us,” is a terrifying one in many ways. It requires an absolute level of forgiveness which I don’t understand and yet am irrevocably called to.
This forgiveness, I see, is rooted in a directed suffering.
By directed I mean, intentional; and of course that is the “standardized word” that Gurdjieff gave us. Yet I grow weary of standardized words, which have a way of being encountered so often they produce hypnosis and a false impression of understanding that doesn’t help me—at least, for myself.
So, I say: a directed suffering.
This suffering is directed inward and enters and exchange with the most egoistic parts of my being. Without trying to destroy them, it challenges—by bringing a small, received particle of God’s Grace into contact with my own arrogance.
That happens on a practical level in the intimate, tactile (physical) contact of the inner emotional qualities that are in play here… a play of forces, as Jeanne Salzmann would put it.
That directed suffering is willing to see my life. In doing so it provokes the sacred impulses of humility and gratitude; there is the deepest feeling of unworthiness in the face of God’s gifts and God’s given Grace. That penetrates to the marrow; a calling comes then, to live more directly in the life of the soul and the life of the spirit.
Tine and again in the course of attempting to understand this life I come to the experience that I just don’t value it in the way it ought to be valued. It’s in moments like those that I encounter the ordinary and appreciate the extraordinary. A feeling-sensitivity to life causes me to see how immensely, extraordinary valuable something as simple as Jane Austen’s writing is: the gift of an entire life translated through words into these deep and touching psychological picture of human beings struggling to discover, encounter, address, and realign their humanity towards the good. These things exist only through God’s inherent goodness; and, we must admit, there can be no naturalistic explanation for them, any more than there can be an explanation for why a female mantis resembles an orchid.
Natural selection—nature herself—has no need for such things; from God alone they come.
Austen, like the mantis, arrives quietly as a gift. It’s only in the subtle and precisely savored quality of such things that one begins to taste how God has flavored every dish of impressions He sets before us. Far more than amusements or marvels, they are revelations of a rarely appreciated spiritual depth.
I have the capacity to receive that material through a directed suffering; and I need this exact and precisely intentioned suffering simply because it’s the only thing that can awaken a feeling-sensitivity in me that attunes itself to vibrations of this level and intensity. It is a suffering I take responsibility for; it is a suffering with an aim, a suffering that, willingly undertaken, helps to slowly dissolve the ego.
Taking from the example of Christ, I must go into that garden and drink from that cup.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.