Is there meaning in our afflictions?
With the thoughtfulness of a pilgrim and the prose of a poet, Scott Cairns takes us on a soul-baring journey through "the puzzlement of our afflictions." Probing ancient Christian wisdom for revelation in his own pain, Cairns challenges us toward a radical revision of the full meaning and breadth of human suffering.
Clear-eyed and unsparingly honest, this new addition to the literature of suffering is reminiscent of The Year of Magical Thinking as well as the works of C. S. Lewis. Cairns points us toward hope in the seasons of our afflictions, because "in those trials in our lives that we do not choose but press through—a stillness, a calm, and a hope become available to us."
"The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it." –Simone Weil
"Like most people I, too, have been blindsided by personal grief now and again over the years. And I have an increasingly keen sense that, wherever I am, someone nearby is suffering now.
For that reason, I lately have settled in to mull the matter over, gathering my troubled wits to undertake a difficult essay, more like what we used to call an assay, really—an earnest inquiry. I am thinking of it just now as a study in suffering, by which I hope to find some sense in affliction, hoping—just as I have come to hope about experience in general—to make something of it."
Scott Cairns is the author of six collections of poetry including Compass of Affection, and the memoir Short Trip to the Edge. His poetry and nonfiction have been included in Best American Spiritual Writing and other anthologies. His poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, and The New Republic. He is Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri.
|When a book comes along that offers fresh thinking on suffering, and is unapologetically religious, but not embarrassingly so, gratitude is due. The End of Suffering, the most recent work by the poet Scott Cairns, offers a timely and personal meditation on suffering that rings true, and by its deep compassion and understanding, may bring healing. Beautifully written and easy to read, Cairns never wanders far from the believable. His examples run the gamut from 9/11 to the very solitary suffering contained in the act of burying his beloved dogs. He sticks to what is real and immediate, and helps us experience how our afflictions drag us kicking and screaming "into a fresh and vivid awareness that we are not in control of our circumstances, that we are not quite whole, that our days are salted with afflictions'. (p.9) Beyond stating the obvious, Cairns connects such experience with a self-stripping that moves us from self-preoccupation to mystery. Our sufferings wake us up and lead us to prayer - not a prayer that is extorted by a powerful God who delights in twisting arms - but the humble confession of one seeking to understand.|
In each of the book's eight chapters Cairns skillfully blends patristic wisdom with a modern interpretation. The result feels fresh, while still staying anchored (as opposed to mired) in tradition. For example, chapter three, "One body -- his", explores the relationship of creativity with suffering. As an artist, Cairns shows how artists strive to make meaning out of the broad circumstances of life and through those efforts find consolation in a subconscious hope, an implicit faith. From this Cairns intuits our connection to the body of Christ and our life in Him. God in Christ understands our whole experience from the inside and we in turn can share in that divine knowledge. Our experiences of suffering have the capacity to make us more conscious of the mystery of the whole, of the one body, and of our connection with it. The one who truly suffers moves from self-focus to a greater sensitivity to one's connection with the whole, in imitation of Christ. This doesn't justify suffering, but it helps us see meaning in it. I can warmly recommend Cairn's book as a stimulating companion to prayer and meditation, useful, for example, as a Lenten reflection. His style is personal and the writing graceful. The notes are helpful and encourage further investigation. For a relatively short work it carries plenty of grist for the mill.
|Br. Christopher - Monks of New Skete Newsletter|
|Cairns (Compass of Affection), director of creative writing at the University of Missouri and convert to the Eastern Orthodox church, approaches the theological problem of human suffering with an elegant and inviting realism. This slim volume does not attempt to give readers every answer or, as he points out the irony of his title, provide a way to end all feelings of pain and loss. Instead, Cairns offers a new and liberating perspective, not divorced from suffering itself but appreciating the joy and illumination that may come after a period of sadness. Most impressive is Cairns' ability to combine memoir with insightful theological interpretation. His repertoire ranges from The Brothers Karamazov to the writings of early church fathers and biblical Greek. Using his poetic skill while remaining conversational, balancing the cerebral and emotive, Cairns weaves his learning into short topical chapters that vary from the importance of communal religion to humility. This magnificent book omits the trite comforts often found in this subgenre and offers instead a rich tapestry of varied tone and content that will illuminate for readers their own experience with suffering.|
|Cairns, a poet (Compass of Affection), memoirist (Short Trip to the Edge), and essayist, offers a profoundly touching and deeply considered treatment of the notion of suffering, especially grief, in a Christian's life. For Cairns, suffering is not about the presence of evil; instead, it provides occasions where God can be know more intimately. Suffering, in other words, is an occasion for grace, God's and our own. VERDICT: Eloquent in its simplicity, Cairns's brief book is a superb treatment of the throny issues of suffering and grief.|
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