Suffering and the Courage of God
Suffering and the Courage of God: Exploring How Grace and Suffering Meet
by Robert Corin Morris
Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2005
Reviewed by Kathy Spivey
Robert Corin Morris is an Episcopal priest, spiritual director, and founder of Interweave, an ecumenical, community learning center for spirituality, wellness, and the common good in New Jersey, USA. In this book, he meaningfully explores his topic without frills. He writes “…how we deal with (suffering) begins with our response to whatever life presents us, from minor inconveniences to major tragedies” (p. 3). Alluding to personal struggles with chronic depression and further depths of emotional pain that were “cripplingly real” (p. 3), Morris’ search for how he could “accept (his) pain without remaining its victim” and find “the courage to make this possible” (p. 5) frame the substance of this book.
Part One addresses “the challenge of suffering” and sets forth his living theology. In asking “What was Jesus’ own way of dealing with suffering?” Morris meets a resilient Christ “not as a helpless victim but as a subtle victor, courageously engaged…” (p. 6). This Christ, in his deepest agonies, was “embraced actively by a love and life bigger than any suffering—God’s own eternally springing life, manifest in Christ, available to all, whether the external forms of adversity change or not” (p. 6). Morris is astonished “that (his) own courage could be rooted in a courage as deep as God’s” (p. 6), a topic he expands.
Part Two explores “skillful means of suffering redemptively,” language that Morris claims early in the book with fervor. By it he means “facing suffering with a courage and compassion that can clear our minds for creative responses to adversity” (p. 13). This section is pithy and humble, especially chapter seven, titled “finding joy whatever happens.” Joy, he defines as “a way the heart is disposed toward life itself…a sense of connection with goodness” (p. 84). Other skillful means presented include “reweaving the fabric of meaning”, “expecting God’s help: from rescuer to resource”, and “prayer in distress and disease.” Part Three raises the wider element of “fellowship in suffering”, with chapters on “compassionate presence.…” and “praying the world.” In sum, how vital are our daily choices and the disposition of our hearts in facing adversity as we live in this world.
Beyond the author’s own life experiences, he honors even more the wisdom from “hearing the stories of how other people deal courageously with their own difficulties” (p. 7). I place significant value on Morris’ judicious use of meaningful anecdotal material throughout this book. Likewise, reference to scripture, from his professed Christian heritage, is reflective and clear in aiding one’s further “conversations” with life and the Holy. Spiritual companions, pastors, and chaplains will deeply appreciate these stories as they attend to their ministry encounters where, perchance, grace and suffering may meet. A useful appendix provides six “prayer exercises for facing suffering redemptively” (p. 125-135). The overall accessibility of Morris’ work lends itself to thematic study, individual and small group use, as well as a touchstone reference for pastoral conversations and spiritual companioning. Morris’ explorations, gratefully, took me to new spaces of pondering the courage of God.
Kathy Spivey, clergy in the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1989, has served in ministry as a healthcare chaplain. She completed her spiritual direction training through the Formation Program for Spiritual Directors offered by the Center for Spirituality at Work in Denver, Colorado, USA. In 2005 she relocated to England to assist with elder care needs of family-in-law. She remains open to retreat facilitation and spiritual companioning while working and volunteering.