Even the question is hard to phrase - how to find peace, as an old cleric - when I have suffered all my life from obsess. com. disorder and perfectionism. Religion is not good news and spirituality also eludes me. Fear of God is the bottom line. I can’t get the 12 Steps or Grow to work. Confusion and cowardice - supposed to judge for myself and afraid to accept advice. In a bind. Very hard to pass on the Good News. Brian
I'm glad you wrote this letter and grateful that you wrote it to me. If I change your name it’s not because I feel there's anything to hide, but because it allows us to talk more freely.
Here we are. Your pain is deeply felt and particular, and yet we are talking about it on the internet! For once, I think, this internet can mirror the human reality very well: human suffering is always particular, and yet it touches us all. Thank you for allowing your wounds to be seen. I wish we all had the courage to call out when we need to.
I'm aware that words - printed ones - are not an adequate remedy for anything in themselves; but they are pathways that link us together as a human family. To type or read a word is like gesturing across a room.
Your letter has gestured to a lot of people - more, it has touched our hearts. The first thing that struck me when I read it is how much more human it was than the excited success story I had heard just an hour before. Suffering makes us honest and humble. But more than that, it opens wide doors to one another. May I read a passage to you from an address that Timothy Radcliffe made to a general assembly of Dominicans as head of the order? He took a verse from John’s gospel (20:19): “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Then Fr Radcliffe said:
“It is the sight of the wounded Christ that frees the disciples from fear and makes them glad. It is the wounded Christ that transforms them into preachers.
One cannot be a preacher without getting wounded. The Word became flesh, and was hurt and killed. He was powerless in the face of the powers of this world….
When we see the wounded Christ, then we can face the fact that we are already hurt. Perhaps we have been hurt by our childhoods, by growing up in dysfunctional families, or by our experience of religious life, by botched attempts to love, by ideological conflicts in the Church, by sin. Every one of us is a wounded preacher. But the good news is that we are preachers because we are wounded. Gerard Vann, an English Dominican, was one of the most famous writers on spirituality in the English-speaking world since the Second World War. He struggled with alcoholism and depression all his life. That is why he had something to say. We have a word of hope and mercy because we have needed them ourselves. On my bookshelves I have a book written by an old French Dominican called Les Cicatrices, (The Scars). In this book he tells how he came to Christ through the hurts of his life. And when he gave it to me he wrote a dedication, ‘For Timothy who knows that the scars can become the doors of the sun.’”
You can’t get those programmes to work, you said. Is it possible that you try too hard and you exhaust yourself? When we have a problem, people usually tell us to “do something about it.” I have always felt this to be the equivalent of a push in the back! They are trying to push us into action, when the problem may well be that we are too active already. The problem may be that we cannot stop and rest. If a wheel is spinning in the wrong direction it has to stop dead before it can go right. What prevents you from stopping? What robs you of your peace?
Fear of God, you said. Does it go hand in hand with the perfectionism you mentioned? If you are not perfect, you have every reason to fear God: is that it? You are right: that would not be good news, it would be unbearable news. That mean little word ‘if’ is not a word of God, and no place in our relationship with God. Ban it today! God's love is unconditional; there are no ‘ifs’ about it. Stop running from God in your mind.
I have found a useful device for bad times: micromanage your mind for a few minutes. I'll explain what I mean. Instead of thinking, “How am I going to endure the coming week, or tomorrow, or even the rest of the day?” reduce the scale to a minute or even a second or two. “How am I going to endure the next few seconds?” Easy; I’m doing it already, even before I finish asking myself the question. “What do I really lack in this second and the next?” Nothing; I have what it takes to survive. Say to yourself, like a mantra, “Just this moment…just this moment….” That’s my trick - micromanagement, or microsurgery, whatever we call it - and it works very well. It’s the salty taste of existence; the rest is only made of thoughts.
Stay in the present moment. Don’t let those other times - the past and the future - crush you out of that holy place that is your mind. They are nothing. The past is gone, and the future doesn’t exist. Stay in that small quiet place: that is where your God is. It is the Holy of Holies; it only seems small: the God of heaven and earth lives there. I don’t know what to say about the God of your past or the God of your future. They sound to me like absolute tyrants. I don’t recognise them as God. Try and banish them. The God I know a little is the Father of Jesus, the God who is close to the broken-hearted. “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save” (Psalm 33).
Certainly you can pass on the Good News. Better than people who think they have all the answers. “When I am weak, then I am strong,” St Paul said. That gives hope to every one of us. We don’t have to be strong; we only need to accept our weaknesses gracefully in the full knowledge of God's infinite mercy. Then all the paradoxes of the Gospel shine through us, and we are the Good News.
God bless you now and always.
[You can find more of Fr Timothy’s letters and talks at: