Oh, wow, Mark. Thanks for this and for reading and processing and responding.
“I wonder if it squares with your life experience?”
I think so. However, I’m pretty sure we are having different conversations with Berry’s text, which will make a difference in what we receive from it.
I particularly appreciate the description of Jesus’ terrible prayer. Well-meaning people so often pulverize the broken, implying that “unanswered prayer” is a sign of a lack of faith.
My experience was not carried out through prayerful expressions of deep faith but a great deal of fear, stress, avoidance and doubt. God answered my unuttered, unutterable prayers with people: nurse after doctor after child-life-therapist after Kim-The-Tech-of-All-Trades after breathing specialists after physical therapist after occupational therapist after speech therapist after neuro-ophthalmologist after cleaning staff after med students after the endless stream of family and friends who helped at home or at the hospital … day after day propping my husband and me up all under the guise of taking care of the needs of our kid. And on the days I felt like Job’s wife, silent, imperceptible direction sternly warned, “No. That is not for you.” Coming out of this with ANY faith seemed an answer to somebody’s prayer.
Regarding the abyss, yes. All of what you quoted. The howls and groans that comprised my best effort at prayer for a very long time combined with a crawl through the abyss changed each of us in my family. Some abstractions are impossible to maintain after you’ve lived with the concretes in the abyss. We have hooks we never wanted to acquire. We didn’t have a choice to figure out beforehand, if God would help us. We would never have chosen this.
I’ll close with a section of Paul’s letter to the Romans, which comes from a longer passage dealing, in part, with suffering. I have always been grateful for this text and have come to rely on for survival in the faith:
Romans 8: 18-27
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and to obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit [of God, i.e. the Holy Spirit] helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.