Playing in a Sandbox of Pain

“God, everything sucks. I don’t doubt that you exist.  Just because I believe that you exist doesn’t mean that I feel as if you are present with our circumstances.  You are distant and you are absent.  I’m not going to ask you why you let this happen. People ask that question often and I’m not about to preach that conventional message at you anymore.  I probably wouldn’t find the answer to it anyway.  I also am not praying to you to ask for help.  I just want to let you know that everything has gone to shit. Amen.”

My friend and I awoke from our prayerful stupor to look at each other, acknowledging the divine interaction we had just experienced.  It wasn’t a very eloquent prayer. I am not lifting up the metaphorically impressive names that are occasionally allotted to this type of being.  I had no desire to be helped by this being.  What could God do for me anyway? And I sure as hell didn’t thank God for doing anything for me.  It’s probably one of the most blasphemous prayers ever uttered out of a Homo sapiens mouth.  And yet… it’s one of the most spiritual experiences that I have ever had.

My spiritual and emotional capacities were provoked into this dark, yet magnetic spiritual occurrence because of a few events that took place in my life that week.   A family member had died, another family member had gotten really sick and a friend of mine was being treated poorly.  Moreover, I was sick.  It’s much more difficult to be mentally positive when one’s body is physically aching.  My friend who prayed this prayer with me had been experiencing very difficult circumstances as well, such as having one of his friends die.

After I prayed, my physical sickness felt just as terrible, but I had found a home in it.  My headache was a soothing hum that aggressively forced itself through my cranium.  The soreness of my muscles and bones pinned me to the seat that I was sitting in.  And in that moment, I loved nothing else except being trapped by that insidious paralysis.  In that moment, my friend and I were just two kids playing in the sandbox of pain.  The treacherous storm of our lives had not subsided.  And yet, I found that storm to be the most appealing and comforting entity in my presence.  How is this the case?

The philosopher Peter Rollins talks about the “sacred-object” in his book, The Divine Magician.  Rollins defines the sacred-object as that which we think will satisfy our desires or make us feel fulfilled. Pastors will preach about this idea on a consistent basis.  From my observations, preachers will call this “sacred-object” an “idol” and they identify that idol to be sex, drugs, money, fame, etc.  We have all heard this sermon many times.  Rollins doesn’t disregard the claims of these preachers, but builds on to the message.  Rollins claims that we can often treat God as a sacred-object.  We look to the heavens with the expectation that God will satisfy every desire of our heart and steer us in the direction that is very clear to us.  When we suffer, we desire God to sweep us off our feet and carry us to happily ever after.

We use the pulpit and our prayers to ask God to give us a good first date, an A on our test, and success in our careers.  We also use these platforms to express gratitude to this being that might have granted us these blessings.  These are beautiful prayers.  The puzzle is presented in the fact that we will seek the happiness of God so much that we overlook the despair of the situation.  We pray for happiness when we suffer, hoping that that prayer will be granted in that moment.  Rollins combats this notion.  Rollins defends that the Christ event destroys the idea of God as a sacred-object.  On the cross, Christ screams out and curses God, “Father, Father why have you forsaken me?”  Christ engaged in the suffering of the situation and screamed out about the injustice of his condition.  Christ screamed out and cursed the being that many interpret to be the great “Problem Solver.”  Christ didn’t just engage in the suffering, but he also decimated the notion that God could solve everything with the snap of God’s fingers.  In the “Holy of Holies,” in the temple of Jerusalem, there was this belief that whatever was behind the curtain was omnipotent enough to solve the problems the people were facing.  Rollins looks at this event and says that when the veil was torn when Christ died, nothing was behind it.  The sacred-object that everybody bought into was an illusion.  Rollins says that the Christ event allows us to engage in the “joy and sorrow” of our circumstances.  The Christ event does not enable us to engage in the “happy” of the situation.

Some problems are so large that they are beyond a quick fix.  And sometimes, the only thing that can be done is to allow space and weight for discussing and understanding the problem.  Healing comes from acknowledging that the shit stinks.  My prayer that night was an expression of my frustration of the situation.  My frustration manifested in a curse against God.  It was the one of the most spiritual experience I have ever had because God was present in that space.  God was present in the pain and God did engage in that suffering with my friend and I.



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