A moment in the dark

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Last week, I posted a poem I had written in 2015.  When I came across it in a pile of papers and notes I have written over the years, it struck me that moments of winter come and go, over and over, through the course of our lives.  Finding myself once again in a spiritual winter, I decided to publish the poem.  What I call a moment in winter St. John of the Cross calls ” the dark night of the soul.”

In Paul Murray’s book about Mother Theresa, he references St. John of the Cross when he speaks of the difference between depression and suffering from a “dark night of the soul.”  I feel this distinction is crucial and I would like to share a little of my own personal experience with these often intertwined moments.  In my experience, depression leads to paralysis and inaction.  The “dark night” leads to action.  Though similar in appearance, depression stops you in your tracks and the “dark night” turns you toward.

With depression, there is a great deal of focus on the self, mostly self-loathing, low self-worth and lack of desire.  “Dark night” experiences for me have more to do with an emptiness that leads me to an anxious search for God, in spite of my doubts, at that moment that there is a God.   Because I cannot see God inside myself or around me, I begin to pray more intentionally.  My desire to see and feel God is intensified and I am moved to connect with those whose spiritual foundation is sound, or to those who need love affirmed even more than I do.

Sometimes I embrace the darkness, remembering Jesus, his 40 days in the wilderness and his last moments on the cross.  Contemplation and aligning myself with the human and divine Christ is healing and taking the time for self-care is of great import.

By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act–it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was was put on earth to offer to others.  Parker J. Palmer

Palmer, 2000, p. 30

In the deep sadness of feeling abandoned by God, I sometimes feel called to action.  I have the desire to offer others who are in suffering comfort and love.  In the faces of others, I often once again see God.  Because without him I am ill-equipped to offer love, and the love of others in return is a deep reflection of God’s presence.

“Nevertheless they know how to find God by devoting themselves to Him in self-sacrificing labours in which they are able to remain in his presence all day long.” Thomas Merton

Merton, 2013, p. 31

In 2006 after Hurrican Katrina I wrote, in the margins of What is Contemplation? By Thomas Mertonthese words, “I would rather be in this place of darkness with my God than in a world of lights without Him.”  Not long after that, I was compelled to start a prayer group which continues to bless my life today. All this to say we are not alone in our suffering, and there are some fantastic stories and writers to guide us in the way to heal ourselves and others.

“For a man of prayer is, in the final analysis, the man who is able to recognize in others the face of the Messiah and make visible what was hidden, make touchable what was unreachable.”  Henri J.M. Nowen

Nouwen, 1979, p. 47

Recommended Readings:

Murray, P. (2016). I loved Jesus in the night: Teresa of Calcutta, a secret revealed. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press.

Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Merton, T. (2013). What is contemplation? Mansfield Centre, CT.: Martino Publishing.

Nouwen, H. J. (1979). The wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society. New York: An Image Book Doubleday.

​A moment for walking

person wearing blue denim jacket while walking on foggy road

“Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:8-12

Why were they so amazed? People get up and walk all the time.

Many years ago I was told by someone, “You don’t reward someone for doing what they are supposed to do.”  When I heard this, I was at first taken aback, but then I somewhat bought into the idea. Recently this perspective has been brought to my attention again, and I realize how much my viewpoint has matured.  I now know, there is no love, dignity, honor, or faith, in that statement.

We are not all equally capable of everything.  We are each made up of strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes our weaknesses get the best of us, and we become convinced that that is all we are.  Jesus, in this story of healing, first addressed the inner-weakness in the person brought to him by saying “Your sins are forgiven.”  All the things that make you feel less than worthy, all the things you have done that make you feel ashamed, all the things you are that you are not proud of.  They are gone, now get up and walk.

Letting go of our “sins” is difficult if not impossible on our own.  We often need a formal release from the guilt or punishment we inflict on ourselves or others.   We are not given an explanation of what this man’s sins were.  Jesus does not list them and then check them off.  He incontrovertibly says “the past is the past now go forward.”  What a gift to have such release!

Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:3-5 

For a person who is mentally paralyzed by sin, shame, depression or fear, healing is complicated.   The person who needs healing must let down all the preconceived notions of self-sufficiency and allow others to lead them to the place where healing can begin.  This act in weakness is also a moment of considerable strength.  It is a moment of humility for the individual, and yet it takes courage to acknowledge the need for help and to receive it.  Those with the strength to help must treat this person and this moment with love, dignity, honor, and faith.  The barriers of judgment and pride must be removed, and openness to love and healing must take its place.  In this story, Jesus saw not only the faith of the man but also the faith of his companions.   A moment of unity in the desire to encounter Christ produced a perfect reward for everyone.

“they were all amazed and glorified God”

When was the last time you were amazed?

Take a moment today to celebrate the simple acts of others.  It might be more difficult for them than you know.

 

A moment of unlimited access

silhouette of trees and mountain under blue starry sky
Photo by Sindre Strøm on Pexels.com

For me, this week is the best part of Christmas.  The advertisements are slowing down, the need to shop has all but stopped, and most of the returns and exchanges have been made.  And with a deep and glorious sigh, I now have time, time to rest in the Christmas season which will not officially end until January 6th.  Growing up in New Orleans I think I took Epiphany traditions for granted.  January 6 was an important day! It was, sadly,  time to take down the Christmas decorations, but it also marked the beginning of Carnival season and my favorite treat the King Cake.  Over time, as with many traditions, the significance of Epiphany has developed into something much more precious.

It is during this time that we reflect on the Magi, also known as the Wise Men, and the Star of Bethlehem.   The wise men, traveling across the desert, saw a star.   Knowing the Old Testament prophecies, understanding the stars, and recognizing that this one was new and in motion, they would have been compelled to investigate.  Faithful to the promises made in history they would seek the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior.

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.   Matthew 2:10 (NRSV)

As they entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, their reverence and adoration brought them to their knees.  So much hope led them to this place, and in this moment they were given a miraculous gift.

The gift of unlimited access to the love of God was given.

In my mind, it is as if time stood still.  King Herod, the wily and efficient ruler and a cruel tyrant, is forgotten and all the love that is God radiates in the room where the Christ child rests in his mother’s arms.

If we are wise, faithful to the promises and follow the light, we too are given unlimited access to the love of God.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.   Psalm 119:105 (NLT) 

January 5th “Twelfth Night” by tradition I will add the “Three Kings” to my nativity in preparation for Epiphany.  I will pause and contemplate the power in the moment when they saw the star, in the moment when they first laid eyes on the child, the Messiah, who was promised to the people of God, and in the moment when they fell to their knees and worshiped him.   I will take out my Bible, and I will remember that we to have been given a guiding light.   I will recognize that we too have been given unlimited access to the Love of God.  I will let time stand still for a moment, and I will offer my reverence, adoration, and gratitude to, Christ, Emanuel, God with us.

A moment for tending

TEND–care for or look after; give one’s attention to

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The Kiss Painting by Gustav Klimt

My daughter decided a couple of years ago to learn bartending skills.  She spent a good deal of time in our liquor cabinet reading and mixing recipes.  While discovering her talent as a mixologist, she came across ” The Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch.” The book was a gift to my husband our first Christmas together, with of course a nice bottle of single malt scotch. Inside she found the inscription, “Clay,  May all our years together be as they are now.  Alana”.  Touched by the words I had written, she shared her discovery with me.  A book that had long since been forgotten warmed my daughter’s heart as she encountered a moment from the past.

Last weekend my husband and I celebrated 22 years of marriage.  There have been awesome moments, terrible moments and everything in between. When I am asked about marriage and what makes it last there is no simple answer.  However, there are a few things I have learned along the way, from personal experience and the insights of others.

Have faith.  When moments were painful, my faith had a great deal to do with how I handled things.  Maybe not in the heat of the moment but in the moments after I would recall my belief that we were called together for a reason.  All that scripture taught me about love needed to be lived out in my home first.

Take joy in the little things.  Love isn’t always shown in grand gestures, often it is the simple things that happen every day.  Stop and take notice.  When my shoes make it back into my closet from wherever I threw them off, I used to get frustrated that I couldn’t find them.  Now those little things remind me of how our lives are woven together.

Tending to each other and to the relationship matters.  When a couple is committed to attending to each other, it is not always simultaneously happening, and it may often seem like one, is giving in to the other.  I have found that it is important to recognize who has the most sensitivity to the situation and attend to that.  This creates an element of safety and allows for honesty.   The most important truths, in my discovery, are “I need…” and “It hurts when…”.  The environment that allows these truths to be spoken and attended to will be vulnerable and scary but also safe and binding.

Forgive.  We will have moments of selfishness and frustration.  That makes forgiveness a crucial key to marriages that last.  Ask and offer forgiveness often.  Giving and accepting forgiveness will have a much more significant impact on marriage than any other negotiations.

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

And when all else fails, laugh!  One of the best ways of coping with the difficulties of negotiating in a marriage is understanding the humor in it all.  Sometimes we are fighting for the most trivial of reasons or in the silliest ways.  Recognize those moments and laugh.  Laughing together is a beautiful thing.

Some time ago I attended a church service where anyone celebrating a birthday or anniversary was invited to the altar for prayer.  A couple who had been married 60 years stood at the altar, and after the prayer, the priest asked them to share something about their years together.  The husband with a happy smile said something like, “Everyday has been wonderful!”  The wife with a surprised look and a chuckle replied, “Well not every day.”  Then they chuckled together.  This moment made quite an impression on me.  60 years and they were still not on the same page and yet, they were.  I think both statements were equally honest and sincere.

Our lives are made up of moments and our moments all together make up our lives.  My hope expressed in the statement, “May all our years together be as they are now.” is being realized.  Those early years filled with challenges were rich in laughter and love, And the years gone by have been richer still.

and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”Mark 10:7-9  (NRSV)