Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin
Vigil of the Epiphany of the Lord
I’m not a particularly good poker player. In short, I never progressed beyond simply playing my hand to the ore advanced level of also playing the hands of others based on their body language and the probability that they might have any particular combination of cards. I don’t play often but one tactic I’ve adopted occasionally—to the great annoyance of one Marist Brother in particular—is to play with my cards face down so that not even I know what they are. It’s not cheating, but it does make some people uncomfortable because it takes away anybody’s ability to gain useful information from reading me.
2022 brought a lot of tumult for me and truly most people who I know. Almost any given person I could name experienced at least once significant death this past year, and some suffered through the loss of several loved ones. I reflected in a talk on retreat about how my grief over one particular loss had evolved over time from the initial and overpowering shock to a point where I was able to recognize, appreciate, and utilize some of the gifts that are born of grief. I don’t deliberately maintain a poker face with regards to my emotions, but I have learned that they can be less apparent to others than I sometimes imagine. When my tears do break through, there are some people who express worry or concern. For me though, I have learned that while excessive emotional display might sometimes indicate problematic imbalances in my life, being cut off from my feelings is a far greater sign of unhealth.
Jesus encourages us to pick up our cross, to carry it and follow him, while reassuring us that is the way toward deeper life. Trying to preserve our life as it is and keep our emotional suffering at arm’s length might keep up a façade of normalcy, but it is not a healthy way to live. I have seen some who try to hide their grief away where they neither have to examine it nor share it with others. And I have seen the negative effect that strain has had on the emotional health of well-intentioned individuals and their relationships with others. I have also seen those who have fearlessly engaged the hard work of facing their suffering and ultimately harvested the resultant personal gifts that helped them become more deeply human. As I sometimes share with grieving adolescents on retreat, the tears they shed are nothing more than signs of great love that is too powerful for their body to contain.
One of the many Christian paradoxes is the conflicting beliefs both that we should do our part to alleviate suffering and also that suffering can be redemptive. Certainly, we are not to take on every cross we see. Nor are we to callously inflict injury on others nor pardon neglect. However, there is the mystery of the unavoidable suffering that comes to us, addressed with our name. And that suffering that is indeed meant for us will truly deepen us, soften us, and make us our truest selves if we allow it to. The seed must die in nurtured soil to produce a great plant.
I am grateful to those in my life from whom I have learned how to suffer well. I pray for those who seem to leave their cards face-down on the table to avoid facing the difficulties bound up in their own grief. And for those who have occasion to witness my own tears from time to time, I appreciate your care and attentiveness, but please know that whatever challenging feelings you may be witnessing, I believe they have something to teach me—they do not scare me, and I hope they do not scare you.
For this month’s entry, the ear candy is a well-known ballad about knowing when and whether to show your cards. The brain food keeps us grounded in the Christmas we are invited to live every day with a reflection by Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican Priest. Enjoy!
Ear Candy: “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers
Brain Food: “Having a Hard Christmas? Jesus Did, Too” by Tish Harrison Warren
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!