Friday, 4 April 2014

Redemptive Suffering, Tonglen


"Quite so. A pure light from God. And that is the reason that my excellent curate is storming the citadels of heaven for you by that terrible artillery—the prayers of little children. And if you want to capture this grace of God by one tremendous coup, search out the most stricken and afflicted of my flock (Bittra has a pretty good catalogue of them), and get him or her to pray for you, and very soon the sense of faith will awaken within you, and you will wonder that you were ever blind."
(from My New Curate by Canon Sheehan)

This is the response of Father Dan to Mr. Ormsby who is the fiancé of Bitra Campion. His genuine conversion is what is being prayed for and it is what he earnestly desires but how is he to make that transition from general admiration of the coherence and dignity of the Catholic religion to faith. The chief pleader for the required 'lumen de lumine' is Alice Moylan who is stricken by a terrible disfiguring disease with sores all over her body. This is an example of redemptive suffering and it has connections to the mystical substitution of Charles Williams. In his book The Inner Kingdom Bishop Kallistos Ware mentions him positively. He relates an incident from the life of St. Seraphim who instructs a sister to take on the sickness of her brother who still has work to do. She dies but the brother lives on.

The practice is universal in all the traditions major and minor. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche has an extensive treatment of tonglen in which we draw in with our breath all the misery of another and in dissipation of it also smite our self-guarding cosiness. One can also do it for the recently dead to calm their transition through the stages of the full separation from bodily life. Is this an example of it?(click on image for original)

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