Pain and Solace: Further Reflections

September 2, 2013

trinityI think I may have had an epiphany. Such an occurrence doesn’t happen very often so I thought I’d try to articulate it here and see what you thought. Please do let me know.

It relates to the thinking I did on Bardsey Island and my experience of how the natural world has a mysterious capacity, somehow, to absorb our pain and longings and bring solace. I wrote a post about it here. I wasn’t able to explain in any way though why that should be.

I’m currently reading Ian Adams’ new book, Running Over Rocks: Spiritual practices to transform tough times, taking some time each morning to read and reflect on one of the short chapters (it’s always nice when a magazine’s book review request results in me reading a book I would have wanted to have read anyway!).

This particular morning I read something that made me think further. Let me quote it in full:

‘For Jesus a life of joy emerges from an experience of loving and being loved. ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: abide in my love’ (John 15:9). And this experience of love is not dependent on the love of another single human being (although that can be a beautiful way in which this love is mediated). The love that the teacher is referring to is the love that permeates all that exists (and the love within, and the love from, and love towards it): the good earth, the benevolent cosmos, and the community of God who is love. Joy emerges from our experience of loving and being loved’.[1]

There were two things in this that made me think.

Firstly, the idea that the experience of loving and being loved brings us joy. If there is one thing we know about experiencing love it is that it makes us happy. Our whole perspective on life changes and we see it through lovers’ eyes!

Secondly, is the idea that the community of God is love. It has long been held within Christian theology that God created the universe out of love: not because there was a deficit or need within the Trinity, but as an expression of the movement of love between the persons of the Trinity: ‘creation… flows from the free love of God, from the inherent richness and many-sidedness of his being’.[2]

rublev-iconRublev’s famous fifteenth century ‘icon of the Trinity’ draws us in and invites us to come, sit and participate in the movement of love that we see portrayed there – to take our place at Love’s table (if I can move from art to poetry). We may not always be aware of it, but I believe that is something of what we experience when we allow ourselves the time to connect with the natural world.

Put these two ideas together and I wonder, does time spent in the natural world bring solace because, in doing so, we touch something of the love of the Trinity and the joy that comes from that washes over our grief, like the waves of the sea washes over the shore? The pain, like the shore, isn’t gone but, for a time at least, it is submerged.

[1] Ian Adams, Running Over Rocks: Spiritual practices to transform tough times, (Canterbury Press: 2013), 135 (italics his).

[2] Colin Gunton, Christ and Creation (Paternoster Press: 1992). 75.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Micha Jazz September 3, 2013 at 4:52 am

    There has been an emphasis especially within the charismatic, House Church Movement, if I can call it that, to place an over emphasis upon relationship, by which is meant interpersonal human relationships. These of course can and will only ever disappoint. We are all fractured
    human beings. Recognition of this reality is the first step for many in seeking God as the one who alone truly loves us individually.

    Nature itself is indeed subject to ‘Fall’ – a large subject all on its own – and literally groans to be reunited with the Trinity in the fullness of God’s calendar. Therefore, there are strong elements of God in every piece of Creation, given God gave birth to it all, yet in itself is is not and can never be God. God is no more present in the depths of a woodland or a rolling sea than the Divine is at the heart of city and slum.

    The question s always how practiced am I in knowing God, hence the road of Asceticism, or training for life with God, pioneered by our Christian forbears and a roadmap gifted to us in many of their writings. As an ascetic by choice, I find it frustratingly challenging getting beneath the skin of our Christian complacency in which we settle far too easily for the bland leading the bland, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. A life time of worthy, yet not necessarily Godly, personal contributions, commitments and service in the so called Christian, Evangelical cause have left me finding the ‘Table of Friendship’, that is fellowship with the trinitarian God, late in life. Now all else is a distraction, be it nature, city or indeed my own self infatuation, and of course that delusion that I am of any significance.

    I too love the shoreline and recognise that it is in abandoning myself to the waters that I begin my walk, or is it swim, with God. My insecurities always bring me back to the land, my natural environment, yet I am learning that to know God is to choose to live in a different milieu and/or context.

    Don’t gaze at the sea and enjoy the view and its many charms that calm our fears – merely a temporary fix at best and as such part of the great delusion, rather leap in and discover if the God we worship and serve can save us from drownin

    • Reply ruthvalerio September 3, 2013 at 8:43 am

      wow, thanks Micha. Lots to think about there. The God we worship has certainly saved me from drowning at points over the years – and no doubt will do so in the future too.

  • Reply sally ann September 4, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Sally Hutchings.being saved is certainly what Christianity is all about and finding, in the times of difficulty and despair that that God can reach into that situation, comfort, console, and guide us back onto the right path again is for me an important discovery of Gods working, Though a strong believer in the Trinity I do not think it is as gender biased as traditional thinking has often taught within all denominations of the church and cannot see God just as a paternal figure, God is for me much bigger than this and has qualities that are attributed to both genders, kindness, compassionate, patient,generous,forgiving,loving, charitable,humble and full of mercy and Grace.now I know i donot have all these things in abundance but God does and calling upon the name of Jesus has helped me through many atrial and tribulation as has walking on the shoreline or sitting under a shaded tree. thank you Lord for all the goodness that is part of your kingdom both in and out of the church community and in all people. Show me how to discern more of your spiritual truths,save me from judging others,let me leave this to you and your infinite wisdom holy Trinity.

    • Reply ruthvalerio September 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you Sally. And I agree on the gender observation. At one point some years back I took some time to think about God in specifically mothering terms and it brought a whole new dimension to my understanding that had been lacking (and no doubt still is!). We’ve got a long way to go on that one – we simply don’t have the language we need.

      • Reply sally ann September 4, 2013 at 3:48 pm

        i think the language i understand when speaking of the spiritual qualities that women contribute to the Christian fellowship is all to do with nurturing, listening more deeply than reacting , giving space and time to the other,patience, and unconditional love. These to me are very feminine qualities that men possess to but many do not recognize or do not want to affirm in the other.in previous generations the devotional were often the women whose qualities then were passive acceptance and humility, ie. never questioning the Churches authority. In the scripture we see in the story of Mary and Martha’s different responses to Jesus, one a doer and the other a devotee, one active and another passive. The one liked to complain and perhaps the contemporary view would be to challenge the churches authority over women in the church playing a more full role and being more equal in status to men and women who nurture giving ways this idea in subtle and obedient ways yet long to see the church affirm and acknowledge this important role – again being seen to be as equal to the priests power and authority. Do women do Church differently or are women and men equal but different in their approach. both contributions are valid but can men and women sort out their power base in the church to make the church a place of co -operation and unity, a place where the contributions of men and women are complimentary and supportive and where relationships and dynamics have an equal value, where the decisions and choices do not remain solely in the hands of men who are out of touch with their famine side and women who imitate the dominant culture, after all Jesus was a man unlike any other man who was very comfortable in the presence of women and diid not take advantage of their social roles and customs of the day eg. Woman at the well and we are told delighted in their company and their faithfulness at the end of his life that he choose a woman to appear to first even before the disciples who had betrayed him ,denied him and left him to bear the pain of the cross on his own. it is not that the church are out of step with the modern times it is that the church are out of step with the teachings and practices of Jesus.the language is their women need to understand their worth within the church as well as society as a whole and then sisters will be doing it for themselves on equal footing, full of mercy and full of grace.

  • Reply ianchisnall September 4, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I think the experience of the created world in its un pasteurised form helps us to connect with the universe that is still expanding from those few commands reflected so beautifully in the Genesis account. In the sense that the Creation stems from the intense centre of the Godhead you must be right. That is why so often the modern world feels sterile due to its isolation from the creation and why the pain of environmental damage strikes so deeply at the heart of our own source of life

    • Reply sally ann September 5, 2013 at 6:06 am

      Dear Ruth,
      thank you Ruth, your words have helped me to remember and re read, that everything in the first Two chapters that is recorded in Genesis about Gods creation was seen as being good,, and after each action of God, after each time God said something, he saw that it was Good.This is the Original Blessings we have from God before the fall,where perhaps today our eyes can be open to that blissful state. when we are one with Gods creation.
      I remember also the experience of giving birth and, although the labor had been of intense pain bodily and mentally, there was for me at the end of the groaning and calling out in pain a sense of this remarkable and amazing creation, a sense of the mysterious and unfathomable sense that as a woman, this new life was a wonderful gift and something to be cherished and nurtured.yes, Ruth i agree that the environment the world our children grow up in also needs to be cherished, our children need to be cherished and healing needs to take place.a healing that is bring us back to the heart of Christianity, That God so loved the world that he gave us Jesus and that other beautiful story starts to unfold. Thank you Ruth for sharing your Epiphany and reminding me of that Great love God has for all his children, as the world groans and cries out in pain for the desecration that is occurring in Syria,and other places in the world and here in England, the natural world over Fracking. and in so many other social issues that are confronting the world of politics etc…………..

      • Reply ruthvalerio September 5, 2013 at 7:21 am

        Thanks Sally Ann, it’s great to read your thoughts here. All the best to you.

    • Reply ruthvalerio September 5, 2013 at 7:20 am

      yes indeed, thanks Ian.

  • Reply Venetia Horton March 6, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Gardening is good too. Very therapeutic for the damaged soul.

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.