Recently some things were happening that nobody would put in the “fun” category. I did not feel particularly oppressed nor unfortunate. Everyone I know has days and even periods of time when things don’t go as well as we would want. In fact, some times are down right difficult. Life is not perfect---whatever perfect might mean. Think of the metaphors we use for life. “Life is a roller coaster” is a good place to start!
“Life has its ups and downs” is what I heard from my earliest days on the farm. Occasionally, I heard people use a baseball metaphor. Life was like being in the batter’s box. That is an interesting image, since successful baseball hitters fail seven out of ten times! Frequently I would hear someone say, “that was a curve ball.” I played enough baseball to know hitting a curve ball is not easy. In fact that lack of being able to hit the curve probably is what ended my baseball career!
I have thought a great deal about life. Being on a spiritual journey means by definition we would think about life. For me a spiritual journey is one intentional way to make sense out of life---to make meaning. I know there are other ways of making sense of life. But the spiritual way is the one I have chosen. To make sense or meaning out of life does not mean life becomes more perfect. It certainly does not mean life has fewer ups and downs. People on the spiritual path have curve balls thrown their way, just like all other folks.
Sometimes we experience pain in life. Pain can be physical, emotional or spiritual. Maybe physical pain hurts more than the other two, but I am not sure. Perhaps it is easier to take care of physical pain. Often an aspirin will do. If it is really serious, there are stronger drugs. Hospice folks often get morphine to ease their pain as a part of the palliative care process. I know that’s what I want when I am in dire straits. Emotional and spiritual pain seems less straightforward. They can hurt as much, but seem harder to find relief.
Typing that last word, relief, made me sit up straight. I am not sure I ever thought about relief. Of course, I have experienced it countless times. I have been relieved in big ways and in dinky ways. I have experienced physical relief and emotional relief. I also am pretty sure I have experienced spiritual relief. Now that I am using the word, relief, I realize that I never have analyzed it---never thought about it that much.
Typically, relief presupposes a prior problem. We don’t want relief when things are going well. When we are having a great time, having fun, we don’t want relief from that. We want it to last---forever would be ok! But of course, it does not last forever. Pain and problems inevitably come along at some point. They may be a headache or heartache. Whatever it is, we begin to long for some relief.
Relief is that pleasant feeling that comes over us when the pain or problem is resolved or goes away. Relief is what we feel when it is over. Sometimes the relief is only temporary.
Sometimes, it seems to fix the problem or takes care of the pain. Relief is always welcome. All along I have been using the noun, relief. That is a state of being.
I also realize that there is a verb form---relieve. I can use that in the active sense. Sometimes I can relieve myself. I laugh because that is one term folks use to talk about going to the bathroom! But it is accurate. When we feel pressure, we are able to relieve ourselves. Maybe that presents a cue to the process of relief. And it leads me to a spiritual consideration.
Relief is desired when the pressure is present. It may be the pressure of pain or problem. It can be specific or general, clear or amorphous. As I think my way into this issue, I have a sense that authentic spirituality is always in some sense a relief. It is a way of understanding and a way of living that can makes sense of life with its ups and downs. Authentic spirituality provides relief when thinking about and responding to the curve balls thrown by our lives.
I recognize I have been using “relief” in singular form. Obviously, there are a variety of reliefs---from going to the bathroom to morphine. A particular relief is usually specific to a particular problem. Again, this is a good cue to the viability of authentic spirituality. Authentic spirituality offers not just one form of relief. It offers a variety of appropriate forms of relief. Let me suggest a couple.
I can easily think of discipline as a form of relief. Spiritual discipline is an effective way of dealing with the ups and downs of life---with life’s curve balls. Discipline is a way of practicing that keeps us on track. Authentic spirituality also offers a way of thinking or, even, believing. This enables us to deal with both life’s messiness and mystery. My spirituality offers relief if I am diagnosed with cancer. It may not take away the immediate pain of such a diagnosis, but it will offer care and, finally, relief.
Authentic spirituality also offers relief when I think about what seems like the ultimate pain and problem, namely, death. It is not an answer or solution to death, but it offers a way of dealing with it and, hopefully, through it. It will be finally a relief.