The genius of Jesus’ ministry is that he reveals how God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself (all of which are normally inevitable), not to punish us but, in fact, to bring us to God and to our True Self, which are frequently discovered simultaneously. There are no dead ends in this spiritual life. Nothing is above or beyond redemption. Everything can be used for transformation.
After all, on the cross, God took the worst thing, the “killing of God,” and made it into the best thing—the redemption of the world! If we gaze upon the mystery of the cross long enough, our dualistic mind breaks down, and we see in hindsight that nothing was totally good or totally bad. We realize that God uses the bad for good, and that many people who call themselves good (like those who crucified Jesus) may not be so good. And many who seem totally bad (like Jesus’ crucifiers) end up being used for very good purposes indeed.
All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust and the undeserved—all of which eventually come into every lifetime. If only we could see these “wounds” as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become sacred wounds rather than scars to deny, disguise, or project onto others. I am sorry to admit that I first see my wounds as an obstacle more than a gift. Healing is a long journey.
If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. This is the storyline of many of the greatest novels, myths, and stories of every culture. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.
Scapegoating, exporting our unresolved hurt, is the most common storyline of human history. The Jesus Story is about radically transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing on the pain to the next generation. Unless we can find a meaning for human suffering, that God is somehow in it and can also use it for good, humanity is in major trouble. Because we will suffer. Even the Buddha said that suffering is part of the deal!
We shouldn’t try to get rid of our own pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach. When we can hold our pain consciously and trustfully (and not project it elsewhere), we find ourselves in a very special liminal space. Here we are open to learning and breaking through to a much deeper level of faith and consciousness. Please trust me on this. We must all carry the cross of our own reality until God transforms us through it. These are the wounded healers of the world, and healers who have fully faced their wounds are the only ones who heal anyone else.
As an example of holding the pain, picture Mary standing at the foot of the cross or, as in Michelangelo’s Pietà cradling Jesus’ body. One would expect her to take her role wailing or protesting, but she doesn’t! We must reflect on this deeply. Mary is in complete solidarity with the mystery of life and death. It’s as if she is saying, “There’s something deeper happening here. How can I absorb it just as Jesus is absorbing it, instead of returning it in kind?” Consider the analogy of energy circuits: Most of us are relay stations; only a minority are transformers—people who actually change the electrical charge that passes through us.
Jesus on the cross and Mary standing beneath the cross are classic images of transformative spirituality. They do not return the hostility, hatred, accusations, or malice directed at them. They hold the suffering until it becomes resurrection! That’s the core mystery of Christianity. It takes our whole life to begin to comprehend this. It tends to be the wisdom of elders, not youngers.
Unfortunately, our natural instinct is to try to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until we are moved by grace to a much deeper level and a much larger frame, where our private pain is not center stage but a mystery shared with every act of bloodshed and every tear wept since the beginning of time. Our pain is not just our own.
King (who regarded the younger Carmichael as one of the movement’s most promising leaders) believed in the concept of “redemptive suffering” and thought the sight of protesters accepting beatings, dog bites and fire-hosing would soften America’s heart and inspire the country to reject segregation. But after seeing so many of his comrades maimed and killed, Carmichael no longer shared that belief.
King had gotten a lot right, Carmichael said, but in betting on nonviolence, “he only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent has to have a conscience. The United States has no conscience.”