Sunday, March 11, 2007

snow, daffodils, and Job

I just spent a week in snowy, windy, cold Montreal, made warm by many lovely, shining, grace-filled people. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference I was at, I learned a lot, met wonderful people, and enjoyed being in an old city full of character and life. The city streets were covered in snow, with only narrow pathways for walking, which is a foreign thing for us Pacific Northwesterners who are used to snow melting almost immediately after following, and certainly not accustom to seeing great piles of snow everywhere. It snowed a bit while I was there - the big, thick, fluffy flakes, so lovely. I was glad that our accommodations were well-heated and glad that I had brought a thick hat, long johns and several scarves.

When I returned to Vancouver, one of the first things I noticed on my way home from the airport was that there were daffodils blooming by the side of the road. I adore the spring, seeing all the new life pushing its way into the world, watching in awe as the blossoms rain down. Spring reminds me that life will continue, the sun will shine later and later, and that there is hope, even in the midst of the stresses of school and life and everything else.

And in my wisdom literature class tomorrow I'm presenting on the book of Job. A few weeks ago I was not feeling much affection or sympathy for Job. I thought he was whiny, I thought he was self-absorbed, I thought he should just "shut up and deal with it".

I feel a lot different about him now.

I read the first few chapters of Job while sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean when I was on Bowen Island last week, I read the rest from a warm chair in a meditation room gazing out on the same ocean. I have a lot of affection for Job. I have a deep appreciation for his voice as it speaks to the rest of the Biblical canon. I have a deep appreciation for his voice as one that can give voice to so many other voices.

This morning I had an experience of feeling like Job as I listened to someone talk about "the power of positive thinking" and how an attitude of gratitude can improve one's life. I couldn't help but think of Job, and think of all the other people who suffer in the world. I do believe that our thoughts carry power and influence, that's part of why I love to write, but I also believe that there are other things that influence our lives. I've been hearing a lot about the movie "The Secret" lately, one that apparently preaches that positive thinking will attract wealth and prosperity. I haven't seen it, and I'm incredibly skeptical of the idea, in fact, I'm rather Job-like about it. Set aside the framing narrative of Job and you have the story of all of our lives: disbelief that we actually experience suffering in spite of trying to live wisely.

Later on in the day today I spoke to a woman who had also heard the same thing I had that morning, and who was rather troubled. She has experienced huge trauma and suffering in her life recently, and was also skeptical about what she had heard. She was having a Job moment. I was able to share with her how I had felt about the experience, and both of us were able to reflect a bit on why it hadn't sat well with either of us.

Suffering isn't something we can justify and it isn't something we can avoid entirely. Suffering is a part of life here on this planet, a place we can't escape from, a place God has called "very good", a place where we all must work together to minimize suffering for all, not just for ourselves.

I think the daffodils can teach us about suffering. Who would have thought that mud could yield such beauty?

Today I planted some tomato seeds. I had told my roommate that I was feeling rather Job-like, and after we got through the planting, she asked if I still felt Job-like. I do, but maybe more like the post-theophany Job, the Job that has been reminded of the goodness of God's creation. I can't wait to see the tomato seeds sprout, and I can't wait to taste the sweet juiciness that will come with the summer.

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4 Comments:

  • I have always liked Job... but the pre-theophany Job, who honestly wrestled with suffering and injustice in the world.

    And I've heard about "The Secret", too, which seems to me an absurd and unhealthy thing - the idea that all one has to do is think about good things and good things will happen (translated in a commercial-consumerist culture as thing and wealth - not something really valuable like world peace or love of the enemy) is terrible. The correlative idea is that whenever bad things happen to people, those people deserve it, or are to blame - they "attracted" misfortune and suffering.

    This goes against most everyone's experience! This is the position of Job's friends who say he deserved somehow the suffering he endured (they don't mention whether Job's wife and children deserved to be killed, Job's friends only concentrate on Job). The book of Job proves them wrong - as if we needed it proven, but some do, I suppose.

    "The Secret" is a way for bourgeois people to imagine themselves in control, and to imagine away any guilt for their extraordinary comfort and privilege alongside the horrific poverty and suffering in this world - it's their fault they're poor, or living in civil war, or being invaded.

    Ach! I can't STAND it!

    I fear the day when The Secret shows up in a church service or class. When it does, I'll have to have Job close at hand.

    By Blogger Christian, at 10:49 AM  

  • Oh Lordy!

    I have seen "The Secret" and to me I see nothing wrong with it and in a lot of ways what it says makes total sense to me.

    As for it showing up in a church service or a class. Brace yourself! Not only has it started out here but it has started throughout, atleast, the Canadian/US church (referring to CofC, of course). On the church webboard several people seventy's, pastors, members, etc. have been embracing what it says and have been using it in sermons, sunday school classes, etc.

    I would not be surprised to hear it talked about in some form by a leader at world conference.

    by the way.....Shannon.....loved the blog as always! You are a gifted writer!!!

    By Blogger Sean Langdon, at 1:24 PM  

  • Job is an interesting story, yesterday in a class on the basic text of the moses tradition somehow rather than getting into the wildness as expected we had a nice discussion about the lament tradition and how in the cultures of the west with strong influences of individualism and being self-sufficient, we have forgotten how to lament and like to skip over the expression of feelings anguish, abandonment... (such as in the Methodist Hymnal where in the psalter if one goes to a lament psalm often the lament portion is missing, or the lectionary not embracing a lot of the lament tradition.
    Like you wrote how you use to feel about Job, is often the view we place on people expressing their pain and anguish, when it is a needed part of the healing and growing...
    Job, and many other text have a great deal to offer us on how to deal with suffering and grief,
    Thank you for sharing your words and insights...

    Peace,

    By Anonymous Lyle II, at 4:18 PM  

  • btw.....referring back to "The Secret". I do not think the problem is what it contains but that some will start to make "The Secret" their religion. That is wrong. Unfortunately, I have seen that happening!

    By Blogger Sean Langdon, at 4:47 PM  

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