Richard Rohr – Transforming Pain


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.


Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.



Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 199, 120-121.

Richard Rohr – Jesus as Shape-Shifter

Shape-shifting in The Hobbit

Jesus is always on the side of the crucified ones. He changes sides in the twinkling of an eye to go wherever the pain is. He is not loyal to one religion, to this or that group, or to the worthy; Jesus is only and always loyal to human suffering. Jesus is what mythology called a “shape-shifter,” and no one seeking power can use him for their private purposes. Those whose hearts are opened to human pain will see Jesus everywhere, and their old dualistic minds will serve them less and less, for the Shape-Shifter ends up shifting our very shape, too.

Adapted from Dancing Standing Still:
Healing the World from a Place of Prayer,
pp. 89, 95-97, 99

Gateway to Silence:
In Christ all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

Richard Rohr on Suffering

Van Gogh – Old Man in Sorrow

When I was young, I wanted to suffer for God. I pictured myself being the great and glorious martyr somewhere. There’s something so romantic about laying down your life for something great. I guess many young people might see themselves that way, but now I know it was mostly ego, but sort of good ego at that stage.

There is nothing glorious about any actual moment of suffering—when you’re in the midst of it. You swear it’s meaningless. You swear it has nothing to do with goodness or holiness or God—or you. Continue reading “Richard Rohr on Suffering”

From Bondage to the Desert – 1.6 The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross – 3

1.6.3 Suffering as Identification with Christ

Christians should not consider persecution as a tragedy, painful as it may be, but as an honour. The Bible talks in glorious terms about the suffering of Christians, viewed as a form of identification with the cross of Christ (Rom. 8:17; Col 1:24).

Continue reading “From Bondage to the Desert – 1.6 The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross – 3”

From Bondage to the Desert – 1.6 The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross – 2

1.6.2 God’s Providence in Suffering

When people have unrealistic expectations of God, like being spared the pain that other human beings suffer, they lay themselves open not only to great disappointment, but potentially even to the loss of their faith. But such a naïve and simplistic faith is worth losing, in order for it to be replaced with the robust biblical faith of a true believer.

Sometimes people ask: ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ (This is the title of a famous book written by an American rabbi). Continue reading “From Bondage to the Desert – 1.6 The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross – 2”

From Bondage to the Desert – 1.6 The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross -1

Sometimes Christians tend to live as if the end times have already come and as if nothing bad can touch them (we call this technically a ‘theology of glory’). We even quote Bible verses like Psalm 91:7 in order to justify such triumphalism.

Yet when we do this, we forget that even if the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated in the first coming of Jesus Christ, it will not be fully established until Christ the Lord returns in glory.

Continue reading “From Bondage to the Desert – 1.6 The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross -1”

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