“I entered I knew not where,
and there I stood not knowing:
nothing left to know.”
John of the Cross
“Nature is a metaphor of our inner life. Thus in our psyches we can expect a tormenting desertlike time in which nothing seems to be moving or growing in us. Such a torturous void is the unlit era in life when exuberance is gone, when nothing seems to succeed in reviving or renewing us, when things do not improve no matter how much effort we expend, when our spiritual practices become flat and uncomforting. This is the ruthless shadow side of our psychic world, a wilderness with no visible horizon of relief. . . . It must be legitimate and even useful to be fully clear and happy at times and at other times to be unhappy and in the dark. . . . We are nourished by light and dark. The spiritual style is to find a way to say yes mindfully to both. Distressing voids are thus challenges to stay with ourselves. . . . Mindfulness is a practice of attending and staying. Mindful presence in the void happens when (1) we pay attention to what is with no attempt to understand it and (2) when we stay in it with no attempt to end it. If we simply stay with the experience of the void, something eventually opens in it and us. What is born from our yes to the void is not emptiness but spaciousness . . . (3) We say yes to the silent dark and it reveals itself as a necessary—even kindly—oasis in our inner landscape. (4) We no longer seek things or people to rescue us. Eventually the space becomes as significant and as supportive as the things or persons who were supposed to fill it.” David Richo **
“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm it.
That night—may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
may no shout of joy be heard in it.”
Job 3:3-7 NIV
Moving From Head to Heart
- Do you have a spiritual technology for desperately dark times between a past “normal” and some painfully elusive “new normal”?
- Will you insist on having understanding and exerting control in that space?
- Can you imagine simply “accepting the things you cannot change” – and trusting that the confusing darkness and disorientation can be a “necessary–even kindly”, unexpected path to a better place? . . . even as a nation?
Help Yahweh! In the unbearable Pain! In the Distress! The Confusion! The Despair!
For more: The Five Things We Cannot Change . . . by David Richo
** Numbers in the text [e.g. (1) ] are my glosses.
“If [as the Burt Bacharach song says] Loneliness Remembers (what happiness forgets) then the emptiness of loneliness reminds me of what happiness does not remind me of. That God is more, is greater, fuller – limitless, even. When I am spent He is still full and longing for me to turn, in my vulnerability and scatteredness, to His vast heart of loving provision for my soul. When I feel forsaken and alone – in those moments – I am gifted with an innate holy prodding to submit to no other substitute for satisfaction or comfort. So as great as happiness is in its moment, loneliness by contrast, is not a dead end. It is a navigational aid.” Jennifer @ blogspot
“Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings. If I were once to settle down and be satisfied with the surface of life, with its divisions and its clichés, it would be time to call in the undertaker…. So, then, this dissatisfaction which sometimes used to worry me and has certainly, I know, worried others, has helped me in fact to move freely and even gaily with the stream of life.” … “Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.” Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
“If only one person would show some pity;
if only one would turn and comfort me.”
- Many people run from problems like loneliness, depression, and despair. Can you imagine these unwanted feelings as a kind of unexpected or disguised gift?
- Have you ever allowed loneliness, depression or despair to be a “navigational aid” to lead you to God? What exactly would that look like for you?
- Can you see “downward mobility” in all of this – that what seems painful and frustrating might actually be beneficial? …that “downward mobility” might be far superior to “upward mobility?”
Abba, remind me when this happens to me.
For More: No Man Is an Island by Thomas Merton
Song for the day: It Is Well With My Soul
“You know, some of the reason why we marry the wrong people is that we don’t really understand ourselves. I mean, sometimes I say to people, ‘Do you think you’re easy to live with?’ People who are single. And the ones who say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m pretty easy to live with, it’s just a question of finding the right person.’–massive alarm bell rings in my mind. …And so we go into marriage unable to convey that knowledge to a partner. We don’t understand them. They don’t understand us. We don’t understand what marriage is. Let’s stress that. …Be incredibly forgiving for the weird behavior that’s going to start coming out. You will be very unhappy in lots of ways. Your partner will fail to understand you. If you’re understood in maybe, I don’t know, 60% of your soul by your partner, that’s fantastic. Don’t expect that it’s going to be 100%. Of course you will be lonely. You will often be in despair. You will sometimes think it’s the worst decision in your life. That’s fine. That’s not a sign your marriage has gone wrong. It’s a sign that it’s normal, it’s on track. And many of the hopes that took you into the marriage will have to die in order for the marriage to continue. That some of the headiness and expectations will have to die. …It’s very dark. But in love, darkness is a real friend of relationships. Because so many of the problems of love come from unwarranted optimism. And so we need to be dark about so many things. …I think that there are aspects of a good marriage that should encompass a kind of melancholy, as we realize that we’re trying to do such a complex thing with someone. We are trying to find our best friend, our ideal sexual partner, our co-household manager, perhaps our co-parent. And we’re expecting that all this will miraculously go well together. Of course it can’t. We’re not going to be able to get it all right. There will be many areas of misunderstanding and failure. And a certain amount of sober melancholy is a real asset when heading forth into the land of love.” Alain de Botton
“Most important of all,
continue to show deep love for each other,
for love covers a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- What is your response to this very dark portrayal of married life?
- Did you enter marriage with “unwarranted optimism?” If so, how exactly?
- Can you accept that darkness, melancholy and despair might be part of your married experience? …a valuable part?
Abba, in the darkness may I find your light.
For More: Essays in Love by Alain de Botton
Thanks for reading/sharing my blog! – Bill
“Such a moment is strange to none of us, certainly not to any who have seriously sought to live with God. When we are disturbed by the chaos in our own personal life, when we are not ready to face it, when again and again every security fails us and there is no firm ground under our feet, when our life hangs between good intentions and shame, when it becomes inevitably clear that we are weak, when some unmanageable fate comes over us, a great sorrow or a great passion and we are horrified at the inevitable working out of this fate, when we can see only how faithless and hopeless we are caught in our errors or when friendships are finally broken, when with the best will in the world we cannot find reconciliation with the other, in short, when we take seriously the whole human chaos in which we are stuck–then it all comes over us and we say to God: Lord, I can bear no more. I can’t take any more. No, I don’t want any more. I am too deep in the mire. God, don’t speak any more to me, for I will not hear you. God, we have nothing more to do with each other. And then it happens that we want to hear something new and at that moment, we hear afresh: ‘Peace, courage.’ Courage, which God gives is like a mother taking hold of her child who is out of control with so many faults and failures, who is now very unhappy and begins to cry. She takes his hand and gives him a new chance: ‘Now, let’s try that once more.’ Courage, courage–so God speaks to us when we are disgusted with ourselves.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“‘How can someone like me, your servant, talk to you, my lord?
My strength is gone, and I can hardly breathe.’
Then the one who looked like a man touched me again, and I felt my strength returning.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘for you are very precious to God.
Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!’”
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Dare you admit to yourself or others the “human chaos in which we are stuck?” If not, why not?
- When you’re “deep in the mire” and angry with God, do you feel safe being as honest with God as Bonhoeffer is here?
- When you’re acting like a child and God wants to parent you, can you let God do that?
Abba, grant me courage when I’m overwhelmed and in despair. Take my hand. Hold me tight.
For More: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons edited by Edwin Robertson
Thanks for your interest. When you feel I “got it right”, please share it in your network! – Bill
“… at least one third of the book of Psalms are songs or prayers of sadness and loss and grief and upset, so that very much Old Testament experience of faith is having stuff taken away from us, and what’s so interesting is that in the institutional church with the lectionary and liturgies the whole business of lamentations has been screened out [‘because we don’t know what to do with those depressing passages’*] …because [with] consumer capitalism you just go from triumph to triumph, from well-being to ease to prosperity, and you never have any brokenness.” Walter Brueggemann, with *Krista Tippet
“Faith that permits [lamentation] …redresses the distribution of power between the two parties, so that the petitionary party is taken seriously and the God who is addressed is newly engaged in the crisis in a way that puts God at risk. As the lesser, petitionary party (the psalm speaker) is legitimated, so the unmitigated supremacy of the greater party (God) is questioned, and God is made available to the petitioner. [cf. Job] The basis for the conclusion that the petitioner is taken seriously and legitimately granted power in the relation is that the speech of the petitioner is heard, valued, and transmitted as serious speech. …What happens when appreciation of the lament as a form of speech and faith is lost, as I think it is largely lost in contemporary usage? What happens when the speech forms that redress power distribution have been silenced and eliminated? The answer, I believe, is that a theological monopoly is reinforced, docility and submissiveness are engendered, and the outcome in terms of social practice is to reinforce and consolidate the political-economic monopoly of the status quo.” Brueggemann
“Teach your daughters to wail;
teach one another how to lament.”
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Have “sadness, loss, grief and upset” been screened out of your church experience? your conversations? your prayers?
- Is your faith characterized by “docility and submissiveness?” Is that good?
- Does your religion, church or faith help perpetuate the “monopoly of the status quo?”
- Who stands to benefit if your faith causes you to support the status quo? Who stands to lose?
Abba, I cry our for help, but no one hears me. I protest, but there is no justice. You have plunged my path into darkness.
For More: The Psalms: The Life of Faith, ed. Patrick Miller
These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow my blog, and share it. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest! – Bill (Psalm 90:14)
“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”