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 piracy

white and black selling boat on bed of water during daytime

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened…, and all Jerusalem with him…; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. Matthew 2:1-4

Last week as I was reflecting on the Epiphany, I was intrigued by King Herod as the villain in the story.  The wise men were given unlimited access to the Christ Child, and Herod was denied access.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.  Matthew 2:12

King Herod was created by God just like everybody else in the story.  So what went wrong? Most of us know King Herod is the ultimate biblical villain, a baby killer. However, there is more to the story.

Herod was born in Palestine.  His father was a soldier who ousted the king and took the throne for himself. His father appointed Herod Governor of Galilee.  When civil war broke out in Rome, Herod first sided with Mark Antony who made him a tetrarch (which is governor of a quadrant of Rome).  When Octavian defeated Mark Antony, and Cleopatra Herod switched his loyalties.  Herod was loyal to Rome and having proven this under Octavian-now Caesar Augustus-, he secured his position as King of the Jews.  Being a distrustful, paranoid, jealous, and brutal man.  He eliminated any opposition or threat to his place of power.  This included killing his wife and two of his sons.

But Herod wasn’t all bad.

There was economic prosperity during his reign of 33 years.  Herod presented himself as the protector of Judaism and hoped to win the favor of the Jews. He encouraged synagogue community development, and in difficult times he suspended taxes and supplied free grain to the people.  He earned his title Herod the Great because of all the building he was responsible for including the rebuilding and beautification of the temple in Jerusalem.

But he was a fearful and paranoid man, and he made a choice to let his fears guide his decisions.

There have been times in my life when I too have made a choice to follow my fears and insecurities.  Recently, as I was listening to a song in my car, a vivid recollection of such a time came flooding back.  The song was “A Pirates look at 40” by Jimmy Buffett.  A friend of mine, a Buffett fan, listened to his music often and so that time in my life is marked by his music.

It was a sad moment as I heard this song and remembered being 18 and how insecure and afraid I was.  I didn’t trust the friendships I had because I didn’t believe I was worthy of such good people.  As a result, I hurt those who were actually in my corner.  By thinking that they had something I didn’t, and not understanding that I had an abundance of my own to offer the relationship, I tried to take what they had for myself.

As I listened to the song, I didn’t stay in the sad moment long.  There has been a great deal of change for me as I grew in confidence and strength of character.  And looking back I am grateful for the time and the memory that had such an impact on my life.  Losing the friendships of those I hurt was a valuable consequence.  In the future, I made better choices.  I began looking at people of strong character and instead of attempting to take what they had I sought to emulate their integrity and fortitude.  In time my desire to read scripture grew.  I studied and learned about love and the genuine character of Christ.  He might have been a threat to Herod, but he also could have healed him.

In the song, Buffett claims to be a victim of fate, but I believe we make choices daily that impact the present and the future as well as how we will remember the past.

Will you recognize the value of past choices as moments of growth?

Will you recognize your value and that you are right now exactly where you should be?

Will you offer that to this day?

 

 

A moment to measure

oyster-pearl-100903-02

This must be “the pearl of great price.” To the extent that our soul is alive and connected, we are satisfied with the “enoughness” of who we are and the “more than enoughness” of many present moments.  Richard Rohr

As I begin to meet with the Joy team to plan and prepare for The Joy Retreat 2019, I realize I need to recall my personal ups and downs regarding Joy 2018.  looking back and recognizing the places of growth and the places for new growth is a beneficial exercise for me.   This exercise brings to mind my strengths, which give me confidence, and my weaknesses which give me the desire to do better.  It brings me to a place where I can recognize my success and with humility begin to embark on a new adventure.  I am also reminded that the practice of recalling my ups and downs has not always been healthy for me.  I have been known to spend more time on my weaknesses than my strengths, and to beat myself up to the point of paralysis.    Learning to give equal measure to both, and limiting the amount of time spent on recounting events has turned this act into a starting point rather than the stumbling block it used to be.  What a gift to let go of regret and disappointment and make room for more gratitude and grace.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to share God’s grace and guide others toward a new experience of joy as it is by the grace of God that I am being led.

But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect…  1 Corinthians 15:10

Every day offers us the opportunity to look back for a moment and see where we have grown and where we would like to see growth.  How can you use yesterday’s moments today as a starting point toward becoming more polished?  You are already priceless!