On Suffering Surprise

Blessed Pope Urban V, I’ve suggested, might serve as a model to us in the practice of suffering surprise. There is, however, a danger here.

Those who are heavily secure–or at least perceive themselves to be–may be tempted to sentimentalize suffering and surprise. Relinquishing control can actually feel daring and romantic, if you feel you possess some control to begin with. As the growing study of trauma reminds us, though, not all surprises are good ones.  Surely we ought to allow that what many people need most is a little consistency, a little quiet day-to-day routine, with no surprises at all, thank you very much.

And yet.

Even those of us who feel the bite of vulnerability cannot resort to a barricaded life. We have to find some way to go forward unarmed, some way to close our eyes in contemplation, even when that prevents us from seeing possible danger.

In his great work, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis tells us the hard truth: choosing vulnerability is our only option if we seek to love.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

This is hard.

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