Week #6: Marriage, Gratitude, Suffering, Compassion

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“After decades of living on the edge, Heather King settled into sobriety, marriage, and a financially lucrative but unfulfilling career as an upwardly mobile lawyer.” Amazon calls her book, Redeemed, “An unforgettable, fervent, darkly funny tale of an ongoing, stumbling conversion.” Join us as we read, discuss, and share our thoughts about it in our Fall, 2016 Wisdom Seekers Book Club!

By Sister Mary Core, OSB

CHAPTER 15  (Marriage, Gratitude)

Married by a Justice of the Peace, basically oblivious of the hard work involved in a marriage, and with her $35 wedding ring, King remained married for over 14 years. 

Amazingly, even though she didn’t understand the need for the communication, service and support which a marriage requires, she seemed to have an innate sense of the sacredness of marriage and its lifelong commitment.

King remembers thinking “a bit smugly, that marriage wasn’t about fancy rings, it was about fidelity and loyalty and sticking together with each other through thick and thin.”

What are your thoughts about this “definition” of marriage?

Arguments about housework, money and everyday living began to arise:

“Another person—more mature, less afraid—would have perhaps tried to talk these things out, but at the time, direct communication was a concept almost utterly beyond my ken.”

What are your thoughts regarding the importance of communication?

King responded to the breakdown of the relationship by making a “unilateral, private decision to be entirely responsible for myself—emotionally, spiritually, socially, financially.”

She split everything 50/50 and then focused on how “I always did my share and he never did his.”

What does this do in a marriage relationship?

“We never ‘fought,’ that would have been too scary for either of us. We just retreated to our separate corners.”

What feelings or thoughts does this statement arouse in you?

When it became apparent that the marriage was failing, King wrestled with the idea of divorce, her Catholic beliefs and annulment.

Consulting the Catechism, she read: “Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign … Divorce is immoral because it introduces disorder into the family and into society.”

Once divorced, King begins the annulment process and fears it won’t be granted.

“Instead, the whole process took place on paper (and cost four hundred bucks), and answering the questions they asked turned out to be unexpectedly helpful.”

What reactions do you have to the Catechism quote?  What about King’s experience of the annulment process?

As King reflected on her marriage and what precipitated the divorce, she comes to realize the many ways in which she had withheld from Tim and held onto hurts, fears, grudges, and assumptions.

She concludes with, “I’d never understood we are loved by being vulnerable.”

In what way does this speak to you?

The last paragraph of the chapter is a tender statement of gratitude for her relationship with Tim. What thoughts did it evoke in you?

Chapter 16 (Suffering, Compassion)

King reflects on the very real struggles we all have with trying to understand suffering, its magnitude, and how we are called to respond to it.

She seems somewhat mystified by people who are so distraught about disasters that they can’t sleep.

She asks, “Isn’t the real question why anybody dies at all?  What keeps me up at night—or should—are the abortions I’ve had.”

What is King saying in this?

How did you react to King’s words, “ On the other hand, every human being above the age of five has experienced the fear of abandonment, the sense that the world is a terrifying, alien place, the conviction that there’s no justice, no reason, no God.”

After speaking of a sort of sterilized “compassion,” King says, “But the way to help out seems to be the one-to-one, often awkward, face –to-face encounter—the one that has a chance of influencing and affecting and transforming not only the person I’m ‘helping,’ but me.”

“The best that I can figure is that God doesn’t cause us to suffer, but he doesn’t prevent us from suffering … because in a world without suffering–without consequences for our actions—free will would have no meaning; without suffering, we would have no reason, opportunity, or motive to love.”

What does this say to you about free will?  About Love?  About God?

After thinking about the why of suffering and God’s response to it, King says, “Isn’t the real question most of the time not where was God, but where was I?”

What did this say to you?

Speaking about the purpose of suffering, King writes, “…maybe God uses even our illnesses, our compulsions, the defects we can’t fix no matter how hard we try, for the greater good. As for the wounds other people inflict upon us—maybe he uses those most of all.”

How do you feel about this idea?

At chapter’s end, King tells of Melissa Doi, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and of the operator who remained on the line comforting her as the phone went silent.

What did this tender story say to you about suffering? God’s love? Compassion?

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