This is the continuation, and final post, in the series Reflections on Suffering. The whole series is available here.
As Christians we must bring our suffering into the midst of community. “Suffering is wasted if we suffer entirely alone. Those who do not know Christ, suffer alone.” Our suffering “breaks the bonds of our selfishness and isolation from one another, so that we may truly love one another in compassion. We co-suffer with those who are suffering, that their suffering might not lead them into despair and death.” We must heed the words of Nicholas Wolterstorff when he says,
But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death [suffering] is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.
This is the continuation of a four part series: Reflections on Suffering, Pt. 2, & Pt. 1. The whole series is available here.
Our participation in the sufferings of Christ is not passive nor is it stoic. As Thomas Merton imparts,
Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except, perhaps, to harden them. Endurance alone is no consecration. True asceticism is not a mere cult of fortitude. We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reason and end up by pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial.
Suffering is consecrated to God by faith—not by faith in suffering, but by faith in God. To accept suffering stoically, to receive the burden of fatal, unavoidable, and incomprehensible necessity and to bear it strongly, is no consecration.
Some men believe in the power and the value of suffering. But their belief is an illusion. Suffering has no power and no value of its own.
It is valuable only as a test of faith. What if our faith fails in the test? Is it good to suffer, then? What if we enter into suffering with a strong faith in suffering, and then discover that suffering destroys us?
This is the continuation of a previous post, Reflections on Suffering, Pt 1. The whole series is available here.
As a celibate gay man I will constantly wrestle with the intersection of my desires and my convictions. By following my desire to become like Christ through the life of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I must always be willing to give up anything that runs contrary to that life. For me, I’ve experienced this sacrifice most profoundly as I grieve the real cost of my celibacy: saying no to a romantic and sexual relationship with another man. Knowing this has forced me to come to terms with my own vocation as a celibate gay man. As I’ve worked through these feelings, particularly those of falling in love, I’ve been grappling with feelings of sadness, sadness that comes from slowly grieving all that I am called to give up for God’s call for my life.
Copyright Gregg Webb 2012
It’s good to grieve, and as a future counselor I understand that grief and sadness have a real place in our lives. Grief gives us an appreciation for what we’ve lost as well as a renewed connection with our heart. It is easy to discount and discredit our emotions and to simply become numb, but grief and the process of grieving allow us to come to terms and acknowledge the depth of our real feeling. However, grief has its season and may eventually run its course. It is something we must go through, but we know that in time, the depth of pain and loss will slowly fade. My self-denial and pursuit of celibacy in accordance with my theological convictions will have its cost but I must remember that it is for a larger purpose.
This is part one in a four part series on suffering. I will be posting the remaining parts on Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, and Holy Thursday. The whole series is published here.
My own very limited experience of suffering and grief is in part born from my unique and perpetual singleness as a celibate gay man. The loss of a future husband and the physical erotic expression of my love and affection have led me to find consolation in reflections on suffering and grief in general. Like me, a number of celibate gay Christians have found some outlet for their pain in the theology of suffering, Wes Hill being a good example. Other celibate gay Christians like Eve Tushnet have never resonated as deeply with a theology of suffering in the midst of their celibacy. In the pages that follow I will attempt to share some of my own experience and reflections on suffering, as well as the numerous contributions of other far greater thinkers who have wrestled with grief, suffering, and the goodness of God.
So what even is suffering? Where does it come from? Can we explain its existence with the existence of an all-loving, good God?
Copyright Gregg Webb 2012
There are a number of factors that contribute to my conservative views as a celibate-gay Christian. The traditional view of marriage that I’ve held my whole life rests on several things and goes beyond the main passages of scripture that are so often brought up. Scripture is of course foundational for many of my beliefs regarding my sexuality as are the consistent teachings of the Church for over two millennia; they aren’t however the strongest day to day reminders of why I’ve chosen celibacy as my path. From my Eastern Orthodox upbringing I’ve grown up with the stories of countless men and women who have followed Christ’s call to take up their cross, deny themselves and follow after him. These saints, and especially the ascetics, are my daily reminder of the well-worn path I pursue.
This summer I am taking a short two-week class studying the book of Job. One assignment for this class was to write two laments one personal, and one about something at a distance. I chose to write this latter lament on abortion. I know that this is a controversial topic and that it stands outside of the general subject of this blog, however I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share this beyond my class. During my undergraduate years I had the opportunity to volunteer and intern with a crisis pregnancy clinic in Columbia, MO. My time there was an eye-opening and heart-rending experience forever cementing the lives of the unborn and their parents deeply in my heart.
Copyright Gregg Webb 2013
Holy Lord, you are our Father and bridegroom. Hear our cries as we struggle to understand and help your suffering daughters and their un-born children. You know your children and their hearts before they were ever knit in their mother’s wombs. Hear our voice in the absence of their stifled voices and bring an end to this madness.
We know you are a faithful and loving father, yet when we see mothers who can’t bear the thought of feeding one more mouth turning to abortion to escape bringing another life into such hell, our hearts are shattered and rent at such a choice ever having to be weighed by your daughters. Why, O Lord do children die at the hand of their desperate mothers? Why does poverty have such a grip on their lives, and hopelessness so deeply grip their hearts that taking the life of their own flesh and blood seems like a sane choice? There surely is no sanity in this, no reason other than pure desperation. Why are so many people’s hearts hardened to the point where they would laud such a choice as a right or as an undeniable privilege? They try and make this discussion seem reasonable and almost holy. How long will you allow children’s lives to be profaned by such words? This seems like such madness and troubles our souls beyond words.
On the 5th Sunday of lent the Orthodox Church remembers St. Mary of Egypt. Her life is read during the Great Canon of St. Andrew during the previous week.
St. Mary of Egypt has always been one my favorite saints of the Church. For years her own story and celebrated place in the life of the Church gave me hope that even with my own struggles with sexuality I might still belong in the Church. For those of you who may not be familiar with the life of this 5th century saint you can read her entire story here. I’ve been wanting to share just a few reflections from her life for some time now and I can’t think of a better time than the 5th Sunday in lent which is dedicated to her.
Anytime someone brings up the role of women in the Church I always think of St. Mary. Read More
Copyright 2009 Gregg Webb
Cross posted from Spiritual Friendship
Over the last few months I’ve been slowly working through what it looks like to grieve the loss of the “what might have been.”
For me the “what might have been,” is the husband I will never have. As a celibate gay man I will constantly wrestle with the intersection of my desires and my convictions. By following my desire to become like Christ through the life of the Orthodox Church, I must always be willing to give up anything that runs contrary to that life. For me, I’ve experienced this sacrifice most profoundly as I slowly grieve the real cost of my celibacy: saying no to a romantic and sexual relationship with another man.
Four years ago through a moment of terrified bravery my home became safe.
Four years ago I confessed to my sophomore roommate that I struggled with same-sex attractions. It was almost 2am on a Saturday night and we were up late, as we often were, chatting until the early morning. I’d been friends with my roommate for over a year and we, along with 4 other friends, shared two dorm rooms our sophomore year of college. For several months I’d been wanting to tell my roommate about my deep struggle with my sexuality but for various reasons it never happened until that night in October. He could sense the weight of what I told him and offered to come along side me as a brother and friend, to defend me should anyone speak against me. More than anything he allowed me for the first time to feel safe.
A brief update!
Copyright 2013 Gregg Webb
Almost two weeks ago I began a three year Master of Arts in Counseling program at Covenant Seminary here in St. Louis. It’s a seminary in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) one of the more conservative Presbyterian groups. My father received his Mdiv from the same seminary over 35 years while he was still a member of the PCA. I’ve been blessed to know several friends from my undergraduate who attend as well as several alumni who are now Eastern Orthodox. The school is known for their counseling program in particular and has provided St. Louis and many other cities with hundreds of gifted counselors. I knew going in that It would be a challenge interacting and engaging with a reformed protestant theology on a daily basis as an Eastern Orthodox believer. However, I truly believe that God has used my time in an Evangelical Presbyterian campus ministry to help prepare me for these next few years as well as my parent’s long history in the same community.
I am very blessed to attend school with many Godly men and women who are all seeking to dedicate their life to serving Christ. The professors have a deep, deep love for their students and for scripture and their pastoral care runs deeply throughout the school. In addition to the school’s foundational theology class I am also taking an Introduction to the New Testament, Intro to Counseling, and Marriage and Family Counseling. This semester I am also auditing a class on “Unholy Matrimony” which looks at various challenges to marriage. Homosexuality has already come up and I and several friends are looking forward to engaging the subject as well as a discussion of singleness with the rest of the (mostly married) class. Another perk of Covenant is its growing community of side-B Christians and the school’s welcoming, graceful and humble approach towards men and women with same-sex attractions.
I am also continuing this year to volunteer as a co-group leader with a local ministry helping to lead a men’s Same-Sex attraction support group. My involvement with the group over the last year has had a deep impact on me and I’m excited to continue learning from their stories and living life along side of them as they work through many difficult questions. It is incredible to think that I as a former member of the group am now able to now offer something back!
So as you might imagine things are pretty busy! In my free time I’m continuing to develop my friendships and community here at school in St. Louis and across the country. I hope to continue to occasionally post on here as well as at Spiritual Friendship and you can always keep up with me on Twitter! Thank you all for your prayers and support and I look forward to continuing this conversation!