Posted on June 28th, 2017
Alison Christian explores how to work with directees in light of recent distressing events at Glenfell Tower and London Bridge. ‘It may help, first, if we can admit to ourselves, our own state of mind and heart…. Looking into my own heart I see a sense of heightened anxiety, shame, helplessness and probably one or two other things.’
“How can God allow this to happen?”
“What sort of God allows this?”
“Why has God punished them/us like this?
“What had they ever done to deserve this?
“I don’t believe in your God.”
At such times as these, when we become almost afraid to turn on the news in the morning because of seemingly endless tragedy and inhumanity, we should expect questions such as the ones above in our spiritual direction sessions.
It may help, first, if we can admit to ourselves, our own state of mind and heart. The Queen described the state of the nation as “sombre”; what a good description. Looking into my own heart I see a sense of heightened anxiety, shame, helplessness and probably one or two other things. This is a gift to me as a director at this time. I am not called to be superhuman with answers to everything. I am called to be ordinarily human walking beside other humans, sharing their burdens empathetically. What I must do is to keep my daily routine of prayer going – it is so easy to let it slip at times like this – to find that place where I am grounded in God and not struggling to do anything in my own strength.
The questions above take us to the heart of three things. “Who is God, actually?” “What is my image of God?” And, “Why is there so much suffering in the world?” We know that most of us carry into adult life a pretty schizoid image of God. We pay lip service to a God of love but underneath we often carry a very judgemental image of God based on authority figures from childhood, a God whom we have to please. Many, if not most Christian get no chance to explore this undeveloped image of God and don’t voice these feelings. But in unusual times like this we can expect things to surface.
What is to be our response? The first is unconditional, non-judgemental, empathetic listening to allow people to express their grief, anger, helplessness, fear etc. The question which we are all asking is the question of Job and the Psalmist, “Why is there so much suffering in the world?” Like Job and the Psalmist we do well if we do not try to give an answer.
Is there anything we can offer those who come with these questions at this time? There is plenty. Depending of course on circumstances we can begin to unpack images of God. To the challenging question, “I don’t believe in your God?” we can respond, “Who do you think my God is?” And take it from there…. Or we might simply go straight to the Cross and hopefully to the heart. Offer a contemplative exercise of just spending some time with the crucified Lord, gazing into his face. Suggest a picture of the crucifixion which your directee can look up easily on the Internet. It should not be one of the more graphic pictures, nor sentimental. Invite your directee simply to sit with the picture for a little at home, and see what happens. As we know the Cross does not answer the question of why there is suffering in the world but gazing on Christ crucified changes the perspective; helps us see things in a new way, holds us deep down until we can be healed.