Suffering and Service
There seems to be so much suffering in the world right now. Maybe this is always so. But between violent extremism, the refugee crisis in Europe and beyond, gun violence in the United States, and such shocking divides between the rich and the poor, today’s world seems full of strife. And in the face of these realities, it is hard not to ask that timeless spiritual question: how could a loving God allow such horror and heartbreak?
I was looking at what Baba has said on the topic in hopes of finding some relief. Baba tells us “suffering comes through. . . attachment to illusions,” comparing our attachment to the world to children’s attachment to their toys. He calls for “firm and unfaltering love for God” and says that it is only loyalty to the Truth — not the events of the world — that can bring Peace.
To be honest, I don’t find this that comforting. It doesn’t make me question God, but it does make me feel a little helpless. Accepting all the world’s hurt as His whim is one thing on paper, but I find it bitter balm in the face of anguish. If the goal of life is to get closer to Love, it is hard to imagine that a child dying, an entire country being torn apart, the suffering of a mother who has no water for her thirsty son, or a kidnapped journalist dying in the desert, is what is necessary to help us get there.
When moved by suffering, it’s also hard not to wonder what we can do. How can we be of help? This question of service reminds me of the first conversation I had with my husband — truth be told, it was an argument of sorts. A mutual friend had gathered some of us young (at the time) Baba lovers in his San Francisco apartment to feed us Indian food (thanks, Brian Collins) and debate the nature of service. My husband, raised Catholic, thought it was a moral imperative, perhaps even the point of life, to be of service to others however one can. Whereas I, raised a Baba lover, said that most service benefits the giver more than the recipient; I'd been taught that selfless service is rare, and the minute you think you’ve been of help, you’ve just created new bindings.
He laughed and told me the story of the first time he went to Meherabad. He showed up (unintentionally) right as Amartithi was starting. It was the first time they were using the MPR to host pilgrims, even though it hadn’t opened yet. One night after dinner, one of the residents stood up and said: “Ok, we need some help. All the pilgrims' luggage needs to be carried up to the MPR. Can we get some volunteers?” Michael, assuming this community of God-lovers must be all about service, thrust his hand in the air, assuming he’d be joined by everyone in the room. But he looked around, and his was the only hand up.
I don’t pretend to know the dance of what we each raise our hands for, or why some of us are dealt hands with more suffering in the cards than others. I don’t know the best response when we are face-to-face with gripping sadness, or cruelty, or pain. Though I trust Baba, I cannot get my heart around it. And though I know we are asked to surrender to His will, suffering is a tough thing to surrender to — or, as Baba asks, to face with grace and fortitude. I don’t have an easy ending for this one, except to hope that Love prevails, not just at the end of time, but in a thousand little ways, right here and now.
Published September 2015.