Dear Fellow Pilgrims,
I woke at 3:15am. Couldn’t get back to sleep. Tossing and turning, I wrestled with demons named grief, anxiety and loneliness. These past few weeks and months have emotionally and spiritually battered me. I taste the bittersweet emptiness of having dropped Adam off at college; I continue to struggle with the wrenching grief of my father’s death; I fight through personal and professional challenges and failures. “It’s too much!” I lamented to Michelle. “It’s just too much to process and deal with all at one time. The notion that God never gives us more than we can handle is a lie!”
Turning attention away from myself to larger concerns has proven counterproductive. There is even more anxiety out there! A nuclear North Korea, armed white supremacists marching in the streets, hurricanes obliterating entire cities. So much pain. So much suffering. So much fear. So much anger. So much hate.
Turning to prayer, I find very little comfort and no consolation.
“My God! My God!” I finally call out. “Why have you forsaken me?” In the cold night of my own shadow, I express my disillusionment with this God. “I’ve done everything you asked of me! I’ve worked hard to live a loving and generous life. I’ve set aside my own dreams to serve you. And where are you now? You offer me no shelter, no safety and no comfort!”
And then it occurs to me: the notion that a good Christian life would protect me from overwhelming suffering is a self-serving fallacy. It is merely another form of the prosperity gospel, the grossly false belief that God shines earthly favor upon those who faithfully follow, while bestowing earthly pain upon those who stray. Even while meditating on the crucifix, have I secretly believed I could avoid my own crown of thorns by being a good and faithful disciple?
Finally, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a copy of Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. It’s been sitting on the corner of my desk for a couple of months, waiting for me to pick it up. In the introduction, the translator Mirabai Starr explains the theme of the Spanish mystic’s message…
Say what’s secretly going on is that the Beloved is loving you back. That your first glimpse of the Absolute was God’s first great gift to you. That your years of revelation inside his many vessels was his second gift, wherein, like a mother, he was holding you, like a child, close to his breast, tenderly feeding you. And that this darkness of the soul you have come upon and cannot seem to come out of is his final and greatest gift to you.
Because it is only in this vast emptiness that he can enter, as your beloved, and fill you. Where the darkness is nothing but unutterable radiance.
Say he knows you are ready to receive him and to be annihilated in love.
Can you say YES to that?
Aha! The human experience of emptiness is the opening to be filled with the divine experience of love. Suffering is not a consequence, it is a beginning, like a heavenly steel plow overturning the hardened soil of our lives. The dirt must be softened, loosened, even pulverized for the life-giving water to penetrate and the seeds of love to germinate.
The only question is how deep… how deep do I want the roots of Spirit to reach into the clod of earth named Steve?
Journey well and pray always.