While many people are counting their blessings at this time of year, some just want the year to end. This week's clergy discuss how faith can lessen suffering.
Rabbi Lina Zerbarini, director, Weinberger Center for Jewish Life and Learning, Sid Jacobson Community Center, East Hills:
I had a couple of losses this year that were not easy, and some of my family members just want the year to be over. Interestingly, in so much of life, when things are good, we think that is normal and how it should be. We think of the bad things, the hard things, as the departure. But life is all these things put together: beauty, terror, joy and sorrow.
I've been teaching Kohelet, which is the Hebrew name for Ecclesiastes. In it, it says there is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to mourn, a time to dance, to weep, to laugh. Life is all these things.
There are two things that help us get through a loss: the love of other people and the love we have for them; and the awareness that the universe is so much bigger than we are. The more we can let others in who love us, the more it eases our pain. When we realize the enormity of the universe and that we are part of a never-ending whole, we realize the people we have lost are not fully lost to us. Their presence lingers in memories and in the love that we have for them and them for us. There may be something of them left, their souls, that maybe will reconnect.
The month that Hanukkah falls in, called Kislev, some say means hope and trust. At this coldest, darkest time of the year, we are lighting a candle and putting it in a window. We should see it as not just an historical representation, but as a real light for ourselves. This light we light at this season can light up our hearts and families and lead us to hope and ultimately to more abundance.
Sister Kara McKenney, Cenacle Retreat Center, Ronkonkoma:
The Advent season is a time of waiting in joyful hope. It was in the darkness of Mary's womb that new life was created. It is in our own darkness that new life can be born. It is in the mystery of the unknown that God creates things anew. This can be in illness (yours or someone you love), in the loss of a job or in the death of a loved one. It's a dying to what was and being reborn for what is and what is to come.
We look at a tree in the winter and the leaves are gone, leaving the limbs bare. To the naked eye, the tree can appear to be dead, yet it is as fully alive as it was when it was embellished with leaves. In times of grief and uncertainty, we may forget that we, too, are fully alive.
Saint John of the Cross, a Carmelite born in 1542, and who was a major figure in the Counter-Reformation, tells us, "In sorrow and suffering, go straight to God with confidence, and you will be strengthened, enlightened and instructed."
Joyce Rupp's book, "Your Sorrow Is My Sorrow: Hope and Strength in Times of Suffering," (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999, $16.95), reflects on the painful times in Mary's life and helps us find hope in our own experiences as we seek Mary's guidance. Join me in waiting in joyful hope.
Harriet Pasca-Ortgies, member of the Spiritual Assembly, Baha'is, Town of Islip:
It is important that when individuals face great challenges and sorrow, when they may feel alone and inadequate to meet those ordeals, that they realize they are not truly alone.
Our purpose on Earth is to know God and draw nearer to Him, as well as to develop virtues. Since our soul is our true reality and will continue to exist after the body, the time we spend on Earth is really a period of preparation for our souls. Throughout our lives, we are faced by many challenges and tests. Although we cannot control what tests and sorrows come our way, we can choose how we respond to them. We can be accepting, rather than angry, patient rather than being frustrated, loving rather than feeling dejected. We can choose to see tests as an opportunity to grow rather than complaining about them.
Suffering and tribulation free us from the petty affairs of the world and help us advance spiritually. They also enable us to experience true joy and help us realize the many blessings we have already been given. If we look upon suffering in this way, we can transform negative experiences into positive ones, thus providing us a way to develop new strengths and capacities. One of the quotes from the Baha'i writings illustrates this so well: "The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit . . . " We are like those plants, being prepared and shaped for our fullest purpose.