Transmitter or Transformer


Consider the analogy of energy circuits: Most of us are relay stations; only a minority are transformers—people who actually change the electrical charge that passes through us.

-Richard Rohr

Unless you’re nothing like me, we all like to transmit our pain. Grumpy people want the whole house to know just how grumpy they really are. Many suffering people like to draw others into their pain. People carrying a big hurt like to put a little bit of it in your pocket. We are, in Rohr’s circuit analogy, transmitters.

Of course it gets more serious than passing along a little grumpiness. When someone inherits a legacy of pain, bitterness, and anger it can descend in a dark spiral. People lash out. As W. H. Auden put it,

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

We are seeing more and more of that lashing spirit, the need to assuage pain by inflicting pain. Of course our wound is never healed by such means. We can only be healed by interrupting the cycle of bitter payment, holding the pain until its poison can be washed out by intense and persevering love. But that takes more work.

The day I read the Rohr quote I heard Rabbi Geoff Mitelman speak. He reminded us of the second law of thermodynamics: all systems move from order to disorder, from energy to entropy. Think of your living room, Mitelman said. You clean it and in an hour it’s already trashed again! The only way it returns to the state of order and beauty is…if you put more energy into the system.

A connection popped in that moment. The reason the cycle of transmission continues generation after generation is because it’s easier to just pass along the crap. It takes will and conviction to say, The pain stops here. We have to put energy back into the human system.

People who do that are the transformers. Suffering comes in, is cleansed and released as deep and mysterious joy. Transformers know instinctively that we cannot, in our own strength, transform pain like that. Only God can do that within us. We take in the suffering, our own and others’, saying, “Lord, I cannot hold this. It is unbearable. But I know you can hold this. In the alchemy of grace, you can take the ugly iron of suffering and turn it into the gold of deep gladness. Please work that miracle in me, so that I need not pass this along to my wife or husband, to my child, my neighbor or co-worker. No matter what this world sends me, let me return love. Amen.”

4 Responses to Transmitter or Transformer
  1. Matt
    October 26, 2018 | 11:48 am

    I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a Transformer, but there has been one generational “curse” (or blessing depending on how one would look at it) that I had to swim upstream against. Hardest but best decision I have made, mainly because I feel like it shows my kids they can overcome obstacles down the road…despite the inertia. And it all began with a prayer that basically consisted of the words “Help, I don’t know where else to turn.”

  2. Meredith K
    October 26, 2018 | 12:03 pm

    Don’t mind me as I’m tearing up in the backseat of my Lyft reading this. This articulates much more eloquently what I’ve been saying ever since I got hurt that “I’m trying to make good come out of bad” and that when I pray for strength on the tough days, it’s much more about praying to God to show me a way to push the pain behind me and focus on spreading love in this new life of being a paraplegic. Thanks for writing this David!

  3. RAD Mom
    October 26, 2018 | 3:30 pm

    I have had a crash course in this the past few years, learning to absorb the violence, rage, and pain of our adopted daughter with early childhood trauma and reactive attachment disorder (RAD) without returning it. Her suffering was profound, and as a result, the suffering she inflicted on our family was excruciating. It nearly broke us. The good news is that there are concrete skills that one can learn with the right therapeutic support, especially non-violent communication and self-care. Then, by applying these skills day in and day out, taking care in even the smallest interactions, one can persevere in resisting evil and truly love someone who is behaving in an unlovable way, with God’s help. That is transforming. I have seen the miracle of it firsthand.

    October 28, 2018 | 9:36 pm

    A Lesson I keep trying to learn. Ginny

Leave a Reply