Usually, I feel a sense of accomplishment when I come to the end of a book. I close the book and put it back on the shelf and feel no compulsion to reread it. But once in a blue moon, I come the end of a book and grieve reading the last few sentences. I'll never again get to read the book for the first time. In 2006, I felt that way with Will Dalyrimple's, From the Holy Mountain. This morning, I read the final word, "Selah," in Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, paused, and wept.
The Red Tent is a deeply moving retelling of the biblical story of Jacob's kin, told from the vantage point of the women. It's a tale of rare beauty, terrible brutality, and of suffering redeemed.
After these grueling years of my own suffering, I find my journey reframed by this ancient tale freshly retold. After brokenness and loss and death, a new wholeness is coming. After her own long, hard road of suffering, Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob says, "The painful things seemed like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place."
I like that. Pain made beautiful. Somehow---both a gift of God and the fruit of our own dogged determination to put one foot in front of the other. Pain is not forgotten or trivialized. Rather, there comes a point when you begin to realize that your knotty pain is keeping the beads of an exquisite beauty in place. You awaken to realize that even death has lost its cruel sting.
Suffering and death, no longer enemies, become "the foundation of gratitude, sympathy, and art. Of all life's pleasures, only love owes no debt to death."
Suffering winnows and refines until only love remains. If it does that---if we allow it to do that---death will lose its sting. And suffering becomes our teacher.
Solomon once said that "love is strong as death." He was wrong. It's stronger. For love alone is immortal---and so are we, when our suffering's stripped us of every lesser thing.