She begins to answer this question in a time of intense personal struggle. Pagels’ life was shattered when her 6-year-old son Mark died from a disease stemming from a serious heart problem. She and Heinz shared the experience in a way that seemed to tighten their bonds. They neither denied their grief nor were being consumed by it. They refocused their energy toward raising two adopted children and returning with hope to their beloved summers in Colorado.
The next year, Heinz died in a mountain-climbing accident. Pagels endured extreme emotional turmoil - guilt, anger, grief. Seeking a way through, she turned to the Trappist monks of Snowmass Monastery. There, with Father Keating and Father Joseph, she experienced the supportive silence of communal meditation and released the never ending tape she had been playing in her head, an imagined image of Heinz’s fall to his death.
She also turned to devoted friends and explored ritual, yoga, art, music and poetry. She continued to study religion and the stories that influence our response to death. Genesis says we die because of sin, that we are guilty. Pagels realized the psychological power of this story and became aware that her feelings of guilt were an unconscious (and relieving) substitute for the alternative feeling of helplessness.
She contemplates how most religious traditions struggle with the existence and meaning of suffering. Pagels herself gravitates toward a concept of suffering, not as a state that teaches you a spiritual lesson, but a place from which there is potential to connect more deeply with others. She acknowledges that it is suffering that most fully demonstrates that deepest connection.
In a recent interview with Terry Gross, Pagels shares another guiding concept that “people can recover from things that seem impossible to recover from … to find a way to live with hope and joy and courage.”
We live in a world that repeatedly asks us to make sense of pain and loss, to heal and recover and move on. “Why Religion?” should ring bells for anyone seeking meaning within that suffering.
This review originally appeared in the Aspen Daily News on January 10th, 2019
Adult News & reviews
Library news, info about upcoming events, reviews of books and films, and a look at the topics that affect us as a library.