A Christian reflection on tribulation


The following was sent to me by a friend who is a priest. It relates to the current tribulations that we are all facing. It is in the form of short statements that give us – or least me – something to think about. The last line is a great summary: God is nudging us in our current predicament to focus on who and what is important, inviting us to be creatively present to others and to ourselves. Real Presence.

  • Tribulations: not if, but when. 
  • No way round, but a way through; not escape, but victory.
  • 12th-century Palestine: Crusader castles. Essentials: a) stonework. B) water source inside the castle. No accessible water = end of story.
  • 1st-century Palestine: Jesus of Nazareth: Essentials: a) stonework (build on rock, not sand). B) a water source within (Jn 4/14).
  • Christian belief Part 1: the rock and the spring are not things, but a Person (The Samaritan woman in Jn 4 said: “I have the H2O,” but Jesus replied, “I am the H2O; I am more H, more 2 and more O than you realise.”).
  • Christian belief Part 2: victory over tribulation comes from Christ. What matters is who we know, who we’re travelling with (Lord Of The Rings carries the same message).
  • Key text: “In the world, you will have trouble, but be brave; I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16/33). Jesus is potent and he shares his potency with us. 
  • We survive the siege if we are united with Jesus who absolutely doesn’t want tribulation to overwhelm us: bottle in water = OK; water in bottle = not OK. With Jesus, we stay buoyant: “A man can bear all things provided he possesses Christ Jesus dwelling with him as his friend and affectionate guide. Christ gives us help and strength, never deserts us, and is true and sincere in his friendship.” (St Teresa of Avila). In adversity we keep our poise, our balance.
  • From theory to practice. Jesus is a) endlessly incarnate (makes his presence felt in a variety of ways) and b) a master of disguise; “Christ plays in 10,000 places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.” Bravo, bravissimo, Fr Hopkins! There are many Real Presences; top of the range are friendship and prayer: in friendship, we connect with Christ the rock, in prayer we connect with Christ the spring. The rock and the spring. The stone and the water. 
  • Our friends make Christ incarnate; in them, the Word becomes flesh. Friendship = the eighth sacrament; love and truth; meeting of minds and hearts; permission to be real. There are people who are drains and people who are radiators; friends = heaven-sent radiators. 
  • Prayer gives access to Christ who is present in our innermost being – “closer to me than I am to myself’ ( St Augustine), as well as in our friends.
  • Prayer = going to the well to draw water; each of us is the Samaritan woman, the Samaritan woman is each of us. (Jn 4) 
  • Prayer: need to wear our own clothes, not someone else’s; bring our unique and real self to Christ. Real = our unedited, unabridged thoughts, fears, feelings, hopes, fears, desires, terrors, guilt, shame, history, agony, ecstasy.
  • Common denominator = presence. Friendship = being present to another; prayer = being present to God and self. Real Presence, not Real Absence. 
  • Friendship makes creative solitude possible. “A good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude.” (Rilke)
  • Solitude = drawing strength from an experience of presence/fullness. Loneliness = losing strength from an experience of absence/emptiness. “Loneliness is a killer… the psychological morbidity of isolation is profound. Lack of communication, boredom and social isolation can lead to deep depression, making people question the value of their lives. There is only so much daytime TV and so many boxsets the mind can take without going mad.” (Professor Karol Sikora).
  • In the current tribulation we greatly need a) friendship and b) prayer. We greatly need to give and receive strength from a) outside and b) inside.
  • Many forms of outreach: words, music, WhatsApp, Zoom, letters, cards, flowers, carrier-pigeons. Tesco is correct: every little helps.
  • Many forms of prayer: meditation, centring, focussing; whatever enables us to be real with a) Christ and b) ourselves. One of the most authentic prayers of my life was “Bloody hell!” in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel 50 years ago. Not great French, but definitely authentic. 
  • God is nudging us in our current predicament to focus on who and what is important, inviting us to be creatively present to others and to ourselves. Real Presence.