“The Way of Suffering: Readings for an Enlightened Life,” edited by Michael Leach, James T. Keane and Doris Goodnough. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2020). 224 pp., $20.
By Timothy Walch
“Suffering is inevitable, but not necessary,” writes Thomas Hora in the epigraph of this useful new book. And Hora presents the dilemma that has perplexed mankind since the beginning of recorded history: how can we find value in human pain and sorrow?
In “The Way of Suffering,” Michael Leach and his colleagues bring together readings from a wide variety of contributors. It’s the latest volume in a series that addresses complex human emotions such as gratitude, kindness and forgiveness. Although “The Way of Suffering” is the fourth in order of publication, the editors recommend starting with this book before the others.
Why? “‘The Way of Suffering’ begins at the beginning, with our broken world.” The editors stress: “Be patient and choose love, forgiveness, gratitude and kindness. Miracles will happen again.” That’s a good mantra, particularly for these troubled times.
The readings are divided into three parts with somewhat cryptic titles. The first part, “No Easy Answers,” brings together contributions from a diverse gathering of writers and thinkers, including Jesuit Father James Martin, philosopher Marianne Williamson and essayist Pico Iyer. This part addresses the pain and darkness of suffering.
The second part, “Out of Darkness, Light,” offers another contribution from Williamson as well as selections from Fathers Richard Rohr, Pedro Arrupe, Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Merton, among others. One of the brightest and wisest passages comes from comedian Stephen Colbert. Together these readings offer hope in times of despair.
The third part is “From Light, Love” and alludes to the growth that results from the pain of suffering and how it leads to the peace of hope. Contributors include poets Naomi Shihab Nye and Seamus Heaney as well as theologians such as Father Henri Nouwen, Servite Sister Joyce Rupp and Rabbi Steve Leder.
Also of note are the “sparks” that link the three parts together. These passages are aphorisms that enhance the ideas reflected in the longer passages. Among those contributing these sparks are Friedrich Nietzsche, St. Teresa of Avila, Louis Pasteur, Leonard Cohen, Dorothy Day and Pope Francis.
As a collection, “The Way of Suffering” is akin to group therapy. We hear a number of voices, some of great value personally and some interesting from a broader perspective. Whatever your estimation of these individual offerings, you can hear harmony and embrace enlightenment.
The contributors sing in chorus that suffering can lead to love. Why is this so important? “If we do not transform our pain,” writes Father Richard Rohr, “we will assuredly transmit it — usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our coworkers, and invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.” I can’t think of a better reason to read this book.
Timothy Walch is a historian of American Catholicism and the author of “Parish School” (2016).