Between the Lost and the Desired – Holy Pain

sunset from the roof

In a poignantly beautiful comment from a reader this past week, I was introduced to the concept of Holy Pain.

Gregory the Great (ca 540–604) spoke about compunctio, the holy pain.The grief somebody feels when faced with that which is most beautiful is both a reminiscence and a fore-taste of the divine world. Originally compunctio was a medical term that described intense physical pain, but when Gregorius used the word he spoke about a spiritual pain. The bittersweet experience stems from human homelessness in an imperfect world, human consciousness of, and, at the same time, a desire for, perfection. This inner spiritual void becomes painfully real when faced with beauty.”

“There, between the lost and the desired, the holy tears are formed.”

Holy Pain – that pain we feel as we walk this life-journey, knowing that there is something far bigger and greater and our heart cries out in longing.

Holy Pain – when we know that this world is not as it should be.

Holy Pain – when our throats catch and we are lost in the wonder of worship, knowing this is only a foretaste of what will come.

Holy Pain – when we see a sunset over an ocean and its beauty pierces us.

Holy Pain – when we are “between the lost and the desired”, when the “holy tears are formed”

Today are you in Holy Pain? Does the hurt of the world gnaw you, even as you experience the glory of redemption? As we journey between the lost and the desired, experiencing the ache of Holy Pain, may we reach to God and in reaching be brought ever closer to the Holy One.

10 thoughts on “Between the Lost and the Desired – Holy Pain

  1. When I teach about the cross in the Christian tradition, students are duly horrified at the violence contained therein, and often, particularly in liberal Christian circles, want to dismiss the cross as a vehicle of redemption (understanding instead that the cross was merely a natural consequence of the life that Jesus led, instead of insisting that it somehow play a key role in our redemption). I understand these students’ desire. I lean towards it.

    But as someone who teaches not only constructing theology, but the traditions of the church, I’m wont to remind them that the cross is understood in the Christian tradition as a thing of beauty. And towards that end, I find myself having lengthy conversations about the sublime: the crossroad of pain and pleasure. The cross upon which Christ died then, in the Christian tradition, is the theologically sublime.

    And each time I venture down that path with a new group of students, I’m haunted by John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp’s “Hurt so good.”

    Hurt so good.
    Come on baby, make it hurt so good.
    Sometimes love don’t feel like it should.
    You make it hurt so good.


    And we often end up talking about the necessity and ‘good’ of pain as a warning system. Case in point: diabetic neuropathy which dulls the senses and allows folks to burn themselves in too hot bathwater. Or allows the heart attack victim to never experience the warning signs of pain. Pain is a sign that something isn’t right with the world. Holy pain alerts us to ways in which grace can (and must) intervene.


  2. thanks for posting this to my fb, marilyn, since i can’t always keep up with your prolificness, (that could be a good royal title, no?) i might not have seen it otherwise :-(


      1. no need to, if you just flag me on the ones you think i might esp. need to see…but then, you can’t do that for all your friends, i know (and you have so many!)


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