I don’t know whether this will be a lone post, the first of a coherent series, or just the start of some jottings but I thought in the shower this morning that it is about time I tried to write about the experience of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as a person of faith and, indeed, an erstwhile theologian.
Suffering is an important issue for Christian theology. All religious belief systems hold out some kind of promise of some kind salvation from suffering; but Christians have had to contend from the beginning with the fact that the founding figure of our faith suffered, died, and was buried. We have had to make sense of the Passion and Resurrection. How do we say that suffering can be the locus of God’s own activity without making God a monster or an incompetent?
The title of this post comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins ‘Wreck of the Deutschland‘–a fellow Jesuit’s reflection on suffering, in his case the conspiration of natural disaster and human persecution as ‘five Franciscan Nuns exiles by the Falk Laws drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th. 1875′. The middle section of his long poem is tussling in tortured language to understand the report that one of the nuns was heard calling ‘O Christ, Christ, come quickly’. ‘The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best’: this is Hopkins’ problem–what is she doing calling God into her suffering, naming the worst that can happen to her the best? He argues one way and another but in the middle of his flow he writes ‘the appealing of the Passion is tenderer in prayer apart’. And he is right: it is easier to be moved by the Passion when you are not in it! In it’s midst suffering can sabotage prayer so that only afterwards can it seem graced. And theories born in prayer apart have little purchase on one’s experience while suffering.
I suppose I want to say some theological things from the heart of my particular experience of suffering–not from ‘prayer apart’. Suffering? I’m not talking about earthquake, holocaust, or cancer. CFS isn’t dramatic, isn’t terminal, and none of its symptoms on their own are unusual in healthy people but their combined effect over time is debilitating, life-changing. Whatever I write it won’t be theodicy. It won’t be anything so grand as a theology of suffering, not even a theology of illness, but I hope it might be a chance for me to make explicit to myself who the God is I have met here in this particular experience.