Here is a powerful article written by John Powell regarding Spirituality and Suffering. I got it from a friend who attended an event on Social Justice and Spirituality.
The author discusses two types of suffering that humans experience:
1. Existential suffering- innate to the human experience, trying to address meaning or meaningless in life
2. Social suffering-not innate to human experience and comes from structural violence.
Some profound quotes from the article that I liked:
“If spirituality is the engagement with the deeper sense of self, the divine or God, the narrow engagement with the egoistic self is the lack of spirituality. The suffering then that is caused by the separation cannot be healed by this small self. And it is this same self and the institutional arrangement that it collectively bring into being that cause suffering in the social world.”
“Throughout this article, I have been using concepts that might appear to be outside of the domain of secular society and even utopian. I have asserted that the work to bridge the spiritual and the secular has to be informed by suffering and love. I have also asserted that spirituality calls us to move beyond the egoistic self to something deeper, more intimate, and authentic, but less private. Finally, I have asserted the need for recognition of our interconnectedness and our interbeing. It would be easy to assume that this call is otherworldly and idealistic; but properly understood it is neither. The call for having this project be informed by love requires a love that is engaged in our situatedness with all its imperfections. It is not calling for an idealistic love. Instead this is a call for what Habermas refers to as a regulative idea, which is an idea that orients the vision and the direction of this project but is grounded in concrete reality. This idea can save us from being lost in a means without a sense of an end. But we must hold these ideas or ends open to revision. This requires that we create our structures necessary to support these ideas. It also requires that the ideas are recursively related to the reality we are co-creating. We have not created much space to recognize our interbeing.”
“If one rejects the first part of my assertion that the suffering of an individual is a cause for concern and engagement, then there is no reason to engage the role of institutions and structures in producing suffering. I have been asserting that the issue of suffering, even in the secular space, is a fundamental spiritual concern. And therefore one must be cognizant of the source of that suffering. It is particularly troublesome when one is actively or passively the beneficiary of such suffering. What does owning a slave do to the spiritual development of the slave master as well as the slave?
This has been explored by Hegel and Fanon, who address the relationship between the master and the servant. But the question needs to be enlarged. To focus on the relationship between the master and the slave still looks at the relationship in individualistic terms. Slavery in the United States was a peculiar institution that affected the entire society including non-slave holding whites and free blacks. What I am asserting is that this institutional arrangement affects the spirit of the nation and all those in it.”
“I have talked about the need to address suffering that is both ontologically based as wel as socially based. But there is another important dimension to spirituality. We are not only pushed by suffering to something deeper and larger than the egoistic self, we are also pulled. What pulls us is love. Love gives us the hope and reality of reconnecting. It heals the sense of loss and separation that haunts the egoistic self. And for love to be realized, the ego is called beyond self. The very self-containment of the ego limits it to a narcissistic love that can never move beyond itself and is therefore always trapped in separation. It is for this reason that virtually all spiritual practices require one moving beyond the self. We are pushed out of the prison of separation by the suffering of isolation. We are pulled out by the hope of love. It is no wonder that love plays such an important role in major religions. In a world that is unjust, hard, and rigid, there is not only a great deal of surplus suffering; there is also little space for love.”
“There is reason to suggest that as we deny the other or use structure to do the work of social distancing and denial, which we deny ourselves and our spiritual lives suffer. Then what is our spiritual relationship to these self-denying structures when they are already in place? …The engagement with the suffering of others is not just a matter of service for an always otherwise spiritual being but a way to know and claim our own spirituality. “