We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.Romans 8:22-3
“To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.”Luke 13:20-1
In recent years the human quality of resilience has become a serious object of study and research. For all of our efforts to reify the human psyche, to look for single explanations of human experience and character, we continue to be surprised and even amazed at how resilient we are. There are healthy and flourishing adults who have been seriously neglected and traumatized as children. There are those who have suffered the most horrific and painful losses, who dedicate the remainder of their lives to the service of others. There are those who have been caught for decades in the grips of addiction, who become mentors and sponsors for others who are addicted. There is something inherent in us that enables us to bear with, go through, and even be transformed by the very worst pain, neglect, and loss that we undergo.
What is it that enables some persons to be so resilient while others are not? For believers, it is the presence in us of what Adrian van Kaam calls “the foundational formative triad” of faith, hope, and love. We hear in Romans 8 that we, as all creation, are “groaning in labor pains even until now.” We groan because we long for the fullness of the adoption by God that we somehow and someplace in us know to be our true destiny. In Luke we hear Jesus tell us that there is in us the yeast, the deeper life and energy, of the kingdom of God. We call faith, hope, and love the “theological virtues,” but they are more constitutive aspects of our very selves. To be human is to trust despite our ignorance, to hope in the One we trust but don’t fully know, and to love in appreciative abandonment to the Mystery in which we live. In all we go through, we groan as we wait for a fulfillment to which this moment points, clearly or opaquely, and we attend to the deep life within that is leavening all of our experience.
Now this triad of faith, hope, and love is in all of us, and yet its experienced influence on our daily lives is related to our human formation and development. For some, the nurturing of life from their parents and others has established a rich soil in which these gifts of grace may take root. For others, the soil may have, through experience, become hardened and resistant to receiving these gifts. For all of us our life formation has, to varying degrees, both opened us to and closed us off from our capacity to receive these gifts. This is why faith, hope, and love come apparently more readily to some than to others.
I think often about a person I came to know many years ago who was severely abused and rejected as a child by her very “religious” family. When we first met her, she would describe herself through the symbol of an apple whose core was rotten. This was the message she had received as a child and continued to believe into adulthood. Yet, even in this pain, she was an incredibly fervent seeker of God. She feared God, on the one hand, because she was taught to expect rejection from God. Yet, on the other, she could not help herself hoping for and occasionally glimpsing an encounter with a God who loved her.
For a time she had been homeless and as a result of her extremely difficult life she was almost always in poor health. Yet, for all the trauma, the self-despisal, and consistent torment in her life and experience, she was for me a great teacher. Her desire for God was so much more palpable and real than I have ever known, and her faith was so deep that she never attempted to deny or repress the pain (physical, emotional, and spiritual) that was such a part of her daily life.
The First Noble Truth of the Buddha teaches that: “There is suffering, dukkha. Dukkha should be understood. Dukkha has been understood.” For the Buddha, suffering is overcome not by denial but by the “way,” the practice, of the Eightfold Path, which requires good moral conduct, meditation and mental development, and wisdom or insight. All of this points to the existential reality of hope or what we now call resilience, which is hope in action. Van Kaam says that there is, in each of us, an inviolable core, a foundational form of our lives. It is a unique image of God that constitutes our deepest identity. Although my friend had felt as if she had been violated to the core, there remained in her this inviolate self. As I came to know her more fully, it became evident that, through all her suffering and contamination, this image of God in her was groaning to express itself, that its “yeast” continued to leaven not only her life but mine and so many others as well.
Today we read the description of why it is that human persons go on hoping “despite all odds,” as we say. What the tradition calls hope, and what is being studied today as resilience, is actually transcendence. It is a manifestation of a hidden truth. Suffering is, to be sure, all too real. To deny or repress the truth of suffering is actually to make it the last word. We are not “rotten to the core” whatever “the world” tells us, and even whatever suffering others inflict on us or we inflict on ourselves. In fact, there is always one in us who is groaning, even as the earth groans, in labor pains for the birth of the Word in us and in our world. All great wisdom traditions tell us that the “way” to foster that birth is to live and to act in accordance with the nature of that life, both when it is convenient and inconvenient. This is why Jesus tells us to love those who hate us and to do good to those who persecute us. For to do so is to give not only ourselves but the world hope. It is to make manifest the truth of the life that is to come.
Resilience is mysterious and seemingly inaccessible to our modes of studying it because it is a characteristic of our “hidden self.” My friend continued to struggle with and suffer from the effects of her trauma until the day she died. Yet, at the same time, she witnessed as fully as anyone I’ve ever known to the mystery of God’s love and of our innate desire for God. By appearance she was a most unlikely incarnation of the Mystery, of the Word of God that is Jesus. But in reality, she proclaimed the love and goodness of that Mystery through all the visible physical effects of her suffering that veiled that love. Whatever we undergo we live in hope, because we wait and long for the time when, as St. Paul says, we all “with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, [for we] are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Hope is a strange invention —Emily Dickinson
A Patent of the Heart
In unremitting action
Yet never wearing out —
Of this electric Adjunct
Not anything is known
But its unique momentum
Embellish all we own —