Learning How to Suffer Well

by The Rev. Craig Lemming

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
– Mark 14:26

Holst CD CoverThe Last Black Man in San Francisco

When I was 15, The Hymn of Jesus by Gustav Holst taught me how to suffer well. As a shy adolescent wrestling with the inescapably tragic intersectional conundrums of my identity, Friday afternoons at the Zimbabwe College of Music were my sanctuary; a sunlit, bully-free haven where ambiguities and unanswerable questions were sought out and cherished. I was fond of each of the set pieces on the Cambridge GCE O-Level Music syllabus, but studying The Hymn of Jesus by Gustav Holst saved my life:

Listening again to what is arguably Holst’s finest work, I now understand why these sublime words and sounds beguiled that frightened young man who was plagued by a gnawing self-hatred. The Hymn of Jesus lovingly enfolded him into the profound, paradoxical comfort of Christ’s suffering. I distinctly remember the frisson I felt listening to Holst’s setting of the following words, when I knew, for the first time, the unfathomable grandeur of God’s Love in the marrow of my bones:

Had ye known how to suffer, ye would know how to suffer no more.
Learn how to suffer, and ye shall overcome.
Behold in me a couch: rest on me!

Thanks to Holst’s masterpiece, composed at the culmination of the First World War, the fears I suffered were transfigured and actually deepened my complete trust in the Grace and Comfort of the Holy Spirit. I realize now that The Hymn of Jesus taught me that creativity could liberate me from the dehumanizing restrictions of colonial categories which were systematically designed to annihilate everything about my personhood.

The character of Montgomery “Mont” Allen in the film ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ embodies this uncompromising, life-sustaining commitment to creativity as resistance. As a poet, playwright, and artist Mont’s mode of being is not only a sermon on how to suffer well, his creativity preaches how to thrive in the midst of hopeless endgames by dreaming tenderly on purpose. Here is the film’s trailer:

As God makes all things new in Creation, we continue to hold fast to prayer, to the arts, and to people who incarnate abundant life. They teach us how to suffer well. And we can rest on God’s Word, who is Christ Jesus, the liberating Sufferer who transfigures pain into poetry.


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