Moments of nervous vitality

Dorothee Soelle’s attitude towards suffering can be puzzling.  On the one hand she criticizes what she calls “Christian masochism.”  On the other, she criticizes people who want to create a world without pain.  We will talk about these issues later when we consider the ways in which people have tried to make sense of pain.  I mention this because Soelle spends pages on theological issues before she gets into looking at what was going on with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  She then frames her analysis in terms taken from the diary of the Italian writer Cesare Pavese, who spent some time in Mussolini’s prisons, but nowhere near as long as his friend Antonio Gramsci.  She quotes from Pavese’s entry on October 30, 1940:

Suffering … dwells in time—is the same thing as time; if it comes in fits and starts, that is only so as to leave the sufferer more defenceless during … those long moments when one re-lives the last bout of torture and waits for the next.  These starts and stops are not pain, accurately speaking; they are moments of nervous vitality that make us feel the duration of real pain ….  The sufferer is always in a state of waiting for the next attack, and the next.

At times the sufferer screams rather than wait, or in order “just to break the flow of time, to feel that something is happening” to break the unending stream of pain even for an instant and “even though that makes it worse.”  [emphasis in original] (Pavese as quoted by Soelle [1975] 84-85)

For Soelle Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane moves between scream and wait. The measure of its duration is to be found in Jesus’ three trips back and forth between his place of prayer and his disciples.  She sees his prayer as the scream, and “the return to the disciples as the increasingly unbearable waiting for the scream.”

Over the next few posts we will explore scream and wait as moments in the dynamic of pain and disturbance, but first we will look into the pain-time as experienced by Laura and me to present another moment of this dynamic—whew!


One Comment

  1. Strange as it may seem I have found screaming does relieve by providing a temporary outlet for the rage and frustration caused by (or that is) pain. I have indulged and screamed then felt foolish about screaming but definitely lighter for a small window of time.

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