"I teach suffering," proclaimed the Buddha.
To meditate on this first noble truth of Buddhism is to spend time with Jesus in the Gethsemane. To spend time with Jesus during his Agony in the garden is to look at suffering eye to eye. There is nowhere to hide; suffering will not compromise or negotiate. Suffering will always win.
This is also a lesson I learn from listening to heavy metal music. Many of the songs teach me that I cannot run from suffering. I can only accept it. And in accepting suffering I am liberated from the attachments and aversions that prevent me from being present to God, the world, and myself.
This skill of accepting suffering is essential to compassion. And through compassion, I realize that suffering does not win. Through compassion, I am saved.
Imagine that you are in a cold, dark cell. Jesus is with you. He has just been arrested in Gethsemane and is waiting to be dragged in front of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Imagine as many details as you can--the cold, the dampness, the hunger, the foul smell, and the pain from multiple beatings.
Now, listen to Hallowed be thy Name by Iron Maiden. As you listen, imagine that Jesus is is saying these words:
I'm waiting in my cold cell when the bell begins to chime
Reflecting on my past life and it doesn't have much time
Cause at 5 o'clock, they take me to the Gallows Pole
The sands of time for me are running low, yeah
When the priest comes to read me the last rites
I take a look through the bars at the last sights
Of a world that has gone very wrong for me
Can it be that there's some sort of error
Hard to stop the surmounting terror
Is it really the end, not some crazy dream?
Somebody please tell me that I'm dreaming
It's not easy to stop from screaming
The words escape me when I try to speak
Tears flow, but why am I crying
After all I'm not afraid of dying
Don't I believe that there never is an end
As the guards march me out to the courtyard
Somebody cries from a cell God be with you
If there's a God then why has he let me go?
As I walk all my life drifts before me
And though the end is near I'm not sorry
Catch my soul, it's willing to fly away
Mark my words, believe my soul lives on
Don't worry now that I have gone
I've gone beyond to seek the truth
When you know that your time is close at hand
Maybe then you'll begin to understand
Life down here is just a strange illusion
(Written by Stephen Percy Harris • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group)
What do these words mean to you? How do you respond to Jesus' fear and agony? How do you respond to his strange words of comfort at the end of the song?
What difference does witnessing Jesus' pain and agony have on you? How might you be attentive to the suffering of others and offer them comfort?
Suffering is not an illusion; the things we do to avoid suffering--our attachments and aversions--are illusions that lead to more suffering. What prevents you from being present to the suffering of others? How might you offer them comfort? What prevents you from doing so?
Listen to the song again. Offer your presence to all those who suffer in the world.
Close with an Amen.