Beyond mountains, there are mountains.

 

“Dye mon, gen mon,” a Haitian proverb means, “Beyond mountains, there are mountains.”  A quote that became famous since it is the title of the bestselling book by author Tracy Kidder, which details the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, who dedicated most of his life to working in medicine in one of the poorest parts of Haiti.

The proverb can be used in both positive and negative styles. For instance, it could be used to describe the number of opportunities there are for a specific situation, but more often it is used to describe the frustration one feels when they get over one problem, only to get a view of several more problems facing them. 
 
Since we began this building project for our new Friary Rectory, I have thought a lot about this proverb. It has led me to think more deeply about suffering and obstacles and how God works in the world. Every time I think we are making headway, another mountain pops up. Sometimes you can anticipate the obstacle, the peak of that mountain sits high above the one you are presently climbing. But most sit quietly in the dark, behind the others – almost hiding – and you can’t anticipate it, don’t see it, and then you are faced with it head on. In my humanness, I often wonder if God works at all in the world. In my faith, I know he does, despite the issues that plague us; that impact me.
 
I have found that the mountains come seemingly relentlessly, and they can rise quickly. I also have found that while you are dealing with the unexpected ones, you still must maintain the normal mountains and hills of your daily life. For instance, while we were dealing with the flood damage and wet-vacuuming the water from our parish floors, I was also dealing with a parishioner in crisis, another in the hospital, and there were those bills to be paid, checks to sign, meetings to be had, and the normal stuff of parish life like liturgies, planning, assignments, and confession, etc. The list was endless, the stuff to do often was overwhelming. I didn’t need another mountain, but there it was…
 
For some of us, too, the summer is not a full break from normal life and schedules. Our weekends are not normal weekends; they are work days. That alone throws us out of sync with most the world. We don’t get to leave every weekend for the shore or woods, and if we could on a day off, most others cannot get off work. So, we find ourselves feeling alone, even in a full room. We try not to become bitter, as we watch others living a life of leisure via Facebook every weekend while we sit and deal with all that calls our attention. Another crisis, another unexpected mountain.
 
I thought a lot about God during this recent project. Truth is, I think about it all the time, but in times like these, I think even more deeply about God and how God works. Why does God, who is almighty and omnipotent, and who is pure love, permit suffering to occur in the world? Why, when we are doing our best to serve Him, does a flood come? Why is little Charlie Gard dying of a rare genetic disease when terrorists run free to inflict harm? Why did 18-year-old Bianca Roberson have to be killed simply for driving her car home from a shopping trip? Perhaps, through our own questioning and our own suffering – our own mountains – we seek to find reasons for the suffering, which seem particularly to make the least amount of sense to us, but then somehow, we are led closer to the God we call out to and find frustration in?
 
I think that is the genius of Jesus and His ministry, we find that the rain truly does ‘fall on the good and the wicked alike’ – even Jesus was not removed from suffering. But, we also learn through His revelation that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us, but in fact to bring us to God. There are no dead ends in God. There are no meaningless mountains.
 
Sooner or later, life is going to lead you into the belly of the whale, into a place where you can’t fix, control, explain away, or even understand. Sooner or later, like with me, you will have a choice to make as you deal with the mountains that come. That’s where transformation most easily and deeply happens. It is like an incubator, where one rests and finds renewed strength in God to go out and serve better with empathy; changed.  That’s when you’re uniquely in the hands of God, because you cannot “handle” it yourself. It is where strength and comfort abound, but first you must lose yourself and willingly trust God.
 
I think that is why I am a Franciscan. If you follow St. Francis, you learn about a faith in God alone, and in abundance at that, even in suffering. When you follow someone who voluntarily leapt into the very fire of poverty from which most of us are trying to escape, and with total trust that Jesus’s way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong, then you learn to see the world – and suffering – and mountains differently.  Francis trusted God and did not wait for liberation later, instead he grasped it here and now to better enable him to serve others in their strife. Francis took on the cross and found God.
 
So, perhaps we must suffer. Perhaps suffering is the rent we pay as human beings to live on earth. Perhaps such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of our suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self we often show outwardly to the world does not surrender without a fight to its death. Suffering, then, is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God. For it is only then that we become usable instruments, because we can share our power with God’s power and this mystery of love can change your whole life. I know it did mine.
 
Now, please excuse me; I must leave you for a time, I have a mountain to take down.

 

 


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