Do you find people talking about suffering “in solidarity” with some other group of people comforting, or does it upset you more?
One of the mainstays of the sympathy of the clergy in regard to the fact that many of us have been deprived partly or completely of our worship and/or normal sacramental practice by COVID-19 prevention policies is to explain that our suffering is “in solidarity with X group of people who have the same problem.”
For example, someone told me that our being deprived of the capacity to receive the Precious Blood put us in solidarity with poor Churches that can’t afford enough wine for the whole congregation to receive, and today I received a letter which talked about our loss of the Sacraments being “in solidarity” with persecuted Christians similarly deprived.
Like a lot of things, I do completely appreciate that those who say it mean to comfort, and also like a lot of these things, I am actually deeply upset by it.
When such disjoints between what is meant and what is heard happen, it is very important for people to talk about them and discuss why – otherwise we are heading for a state worse than that of those on the unfinished tower of Babel!
Part of the fact that I find the “in solidarity” convention upsetting is to do with perspective, for although the clergy are undoubtedly having an extremely hard time, they are not in quite the same position as the rest of us with regard to these things. Which means that one group of people are saying to a second that they (the second group) are suffering something that first group is not suffering “in solidarity” with some different third party. I feel that this is an inappropriate external imposition of a spiritual and emotional response which, while it may be very worthy, can only be a personal response coming from inside, not a response one group of people can assume will come from another.
This would perhaps suggest a more tentative phrasing would be better: “some people may find it helps to think of this suffering as being in solidarity with…” rather than an apparent expectation that we should respond like this and find it comforting or useful.
Moreover, I’d comment that I personally don’t usually find the insistence that other people are suffering the same, more, or worse, comforting when I am myself suffering intense grief. Sometimes it may be necessary to hear it for practical reasons, but often people draw attention to others’ suffering as if they suppose it to be comforting – that it will somehow lessen the burden of my own grief. But the notion that enduring not only my own grief, but that inevitably suffered in empathy with the others I am being reminded of, will cause me to suffer less rather than more, seems odd to me. This doesn’t just apply to the solidarity comment, but to a lot of others. (I suspect this difference is down to personality type and the manner in which any particular person processes things).
Finally, I think it is that “in solidarity” is straightforwardly not something that helps me with this type of intense spiritual confusion. It is the very essence of Hell that solidarity is not a possible response. It would not have the nature it has, if it did not cut off the possibility of relating to anyone else inside it or with regard to it. In this particular type of confusion, to appeal to solidarity is a category mistake. This reason for not appealing to “in solidarity” would only apply to things that elicit this response in others, and I have no idea how common it is as a spiritual response to the loss of worship or the sacraments*. That it is possible, however, should be theoretically obvious**.
What do you think? If you talk to others of solidarity, why do you feel it could be helpful? If you hear people saying it, do you find it comforting or upsetting, and what do you think the reason for your response is?
*I am among those who would test the soundness of spiritual responses by asking if they are consistent with the Tradition, not by asking whether or not they are normal. That is, if someone says “I felt God called me to commit a murder,” or that He told them to worship Ashtaroth, then I would think them almost certainly deceived. And similarly there are things I really experience spiritually that I do regard as unsound because they are contrary to theological truth – I regard them as something to be acknowledged as there, but not accepted as right or true. But that is different from assuming something incorrect merely because it is unusual, and it seems to me there is a tendency to do that.
**Assuming that Hell is properly understood as a state of exile from God, and that the things we do in worship are real, both of which statements I would contend are correct, and would seem to me to be what my branch of the Church (traditionalist Anglo-Catholic) generally teaches (yes, people are welcome to tell me I’m wrong about that :-P. But some of us do actually listen to what is said in Church and think about it, however much of a shock this may be to those who are not used to people taking an interest! I’ll expand on the whole question if anyone actually wants me to).
By the way, the one helpful thing someone did say to me – in case it is of use to anyone else – was to remind me of the vision of St. Silouan: “keep your mind in Hell – and despair not“.