Pollyanna and Suffering

I have always been an optimist. Once upon a time, when Pollyanna was a popular children’s story, I took on that persona, the cheerful optimist, the “glad girl”. The book was published in 1913; Disney made a movie in 1960. I was very small at the time, and never saw the movie, but the story became part of my repertoire for life. I’m sure I wasn’t glad all the time. Neither was the little orphan Pollyanna, but her Glad Game of finding something to be glad about in any circumstance got her through, and changed the lives of those around her. The story lives on in our parlance, pejoratively, as a put down of those who are considered naïve because they do not see things as being as horrible as others do.

Me, March 24 2020

I have been called a Pollyanna numerous times, even now, as an adult. When I first interviewed to become a candidate for ordination in the United Church of Canada, I was so excited, that the Interview Board gave me an assignment, to talk to a good number of ministers about what was the best part of ministry and the worst part. They didn’t say as much, but it was clear that they feared I was entering ministry as a naïve dreamer. I carried out the assignment with vigour. The answers boiled down to “the people” and “the people”. One minister’s story deeply discouraged me; their people had been exceptionally hurtful. Yet with prayer and the encouragement of other ministers, I regained my optimism. God is still working in the world, even if Christendom completely disappears. In fact, if Christendom disappears, that would probably be a good thing. Followers of Jesus could then get back to living the Way, instead of maintaining church buildings and tradition. I may be disheartened from time to time, but I still hold the belief that the Biggest Big, Love, Life, the Universe, is moving in a positive direction.

Probably because of this natural optimism, I have never thought of myself as “suffering”. Others may suffer, but I did not claim that word for myself. Then in August 2018, I came across a definition that fit how I was feeling. Suffering, James Finley said, is “ an inescapable sense of precariousness”. He was discussing Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths. The cause of this sense of precariousness, Finley says, is wanting life to be different than it is. The cure is surrender. Buddha taught that the “how” of surrender is the Eight Fold Path — right practices — right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Of those eight practices, right mindfulness was the one that spoke to me that day, and speaks to me still. Paul Knitter, in his book, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, wrote about “a mindful trusting of each moment as it comes” (p. 159). That’s what surrender means to me now — trusting in the moment. The paradox of trust in the midst of suffering carries us through dark times. This is not a smiley face that says there is no suffering, but a sense of solidness inside the presence of the Biggest Big.

I posted a video on my Facebook page about making today, New Moon Day in March, like New Year’s Day. If what you do today sets the tone for the next year, do what you want to be doing for the next twelve months. I am doing social distancing at home with Hubby, and I hope we won’t be still doing THIS twelve months from now, but today has to be intentional. As I say in my video, the main thing I want to do today and for the next twelve months is to write. The above paragraphs are an excerpt from my current writing project. Just a taste. I needed to read these words myself, this morning, so I thought I’d share.

Published by dreambringer

Retired from a career in private practice psychology. Ordained to ministry in the United Church of Canada. Mother, grandmother, dreamer, writer.

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