Darkness :: Week 1
A woman’s body, like the earth, has seasons
When the mountain stream flows, when the holy thaws
When I am most fragile and in need,
It was then, it seems God came closest. . . .
And God is always there, if you feel wounded. [God] kneels over this earth like a divine medic,
And [God’s] love thaws the holy in us.
~Teresa of Ávila, “When the Holy Thaws”
It was one of the coldest days of the year; and I found my heart growing frigid too.
My usual warm, open heart was closing its doors. Positive and hopeful thoughts turned negative. I didn’t like what I was feeling and I wanted to get past it and on to better, brighter experiences.
But over the years I’ve learned to stop and pay attention when this part of me emerges. Some part of me was hurting and needed to be cared for.
So I reluctantly submitted to this fragile self. I cleared my calendar and took more time than usual for prayer.
Most of my life is spent caring for others. Supporting, them as they seek nourishment for their soul. I often function as a sort of midwife to new life growing inside others.
It’s easy for me to be highly attuned to the emotional needs of others. It’s more difficult for me to pay attention to my own needs.
And so, when darkness sets in, as much as I don’t want to experience the darker side of life, I try and pay attention, remembering that this is an invitation to find God in desolation.
According to Ignatian Spirituality, desolation is any mood that threatens to pull us away from our best, truest, highest self and from God. Consolation is any mood that draws us into our best, truest, highest self and into God.
Even though desolation is a negative experience, when we acknowledge it and invite God in, Grace abounds, healing our deepest wounds and leading us back to the presence of God. The Consciousness Examen is a great practice that helps us do this.
So here I was on this blistery cold day that happened to be Ash Wednesday.
All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball in my cozy home and be alone, but something beckoned me to get to the church for my favorite sacramental service of the year. I didn’t make it to the noon service as I intended, but did manage to get there for the 5:00pm. As I opened the enormous ornate doors that grace the entry, I was greeted by standing room only. The church was packed.
Here we were, all gathered together for various reasons, but sharing one common ground—our need to be blessed with the presence of God.
We made our way through the liturgy, me standing erect and attentive with countless others. Soon I realized how tired I was. Exhaustion swept over me. I realized that physical weariness was a good part of the reason for my negative downturn. I needed to heed my vulnerability and care as well for myself as I do others.
I eased into the embrace of this holy place, surrounded by others just like me—people whose vulnerability and radiance mingled together.
We tread through life often feeling alone, but moments like these remind us we are in this thing called life, together.
I began to let down; letting myself be held in the embrace of a 2,000+ year old tradition of faith. In spite of all the shortcomings of the Church, it’s a container that can hold me when I’m weak, reminding me of my humanity, my limitations, and my need.
Soon it was time to receive the blessing of ashes. The palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday had been burned and made into an ash paste.
I joined the file of men and women and made my way in procession to the altar. The minister kindly looked me in the eyes and said,
“Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”
And then it happened.
Something broke in me.
The dark, icy, cold that had filled my heart, cracked. God began to thaw the holy in me. Big, salty tears surfaced.
Later that night, my heart continued to be warmed by the fires of Grace. Chris and I were the honored guests of our friends’ Chinese New Year Celebration.
It was a feast, a grace-filled table complete with love, acceptance and joy. Strange. On the night that marked the Church’s traditional Lenten fast, I was feasting Asian style. Fasting and feasting co-mingled that night, as only spiritual paradox can.
Ash Wednesday invited me to acknowledge the pain in my life experience; Chinese New Year invited me to acknowledge the joy. Darkness and desolation were present in my heart, but God’s grace too was there, holding me and warming me with Divine Presence through the gifts of gracious friends who share my fragile humanity.
Even in darkness, there is joy.
Even in darkness, we are not alone.
- How do you know when you are in need? Do your moods reveal your fragile self?
- How easy is it for you to acknowledge your vulnerability?
- In what ways do you nurture and nourish yourself?
- How does God warm you when you are cold and fragile?
*photo credit #3: chris heuertz