Denver Seminary

Engage Magazine Fall 2017

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20 FALL 2017 CULTURE " IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD OF MY LIFE, I AWOKE IN A DARK WOOD WHERE THE TRUE WAY WAS WHOLLY LOST." Set appropriately on Good Friday in 1300 AD, Dante's epic poem Divine Comedy begins with these words. In great distress, he attempts to climb out of the dark wood only to be met with two terrors: beasts that block his way and the truth that he must first descend before he can ascend. It's going to get worse before it gets better. We have all encountered difficult circumstances. Some carry deeper pain than others could ever know, and some endure terrible suffering, which is the soil of despair. These miseries are lamentable, not only for those who experience them, but also for those who stand beside the stricken, unable to enter their suffering or to fully comfort it. The empathetic friend can't change the situation, but their presence is a comfort—an unfortunately rare comfort. Such willingness to companion the distressed isn't exactly commonplace. Have you ever noticed how people respond when someone mentions their affliction? We often act like their suffering is contagious. We ask the "Why?" question as swiftly as they did, but then doubt their pain as strongly as they feel it. We want to fix it so we don't have to fear it. We want to know the reason it's happening so we can focus on curing the cause. But often the answer to "Why?" can't be given; it must be lived out. We may be able to discover the source of the pain, but we usually don't learn its purpose until we've gone through it. The realities lead well-intentioned friends to suggest strategies to medicate our pain, chased with distraction tactics if the recommended pills don't work. They shout possible remedies into the pit and call it "encouragement." "Have you tried … ?" We've forgotten how to be still in the digital age, and we flee our own pain, so we certainly don't want to linger in someone else's sorrow. Few people engage in the muddy mess of actually climbing down into the pain with their afflicted friends. When everything feels like it's falling apart, our conceptualizations are disturbed, and we ask different questions than we did in Sunday school. We need someone safe to talk to and know our struggle. But the cost of this compassion Shenki/iStock Out of the Darkness Weeping with Suffering Souls

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