07 March 2015

There is Something Greater

Darkness :: Week 2 

The spiritual journey really does ebb and flow. This winter I’ve noticed a subtle, but familiar dark experience in my relationship with God.

How I wish my experience of God was always marked with peace and joy. But lately its signposts have been anxiety, self-pity and a real struggle to live in the present—where alone God dwells.

When we ruminate about the past or worry about the future, it’s no wonder we feel so disconnected from God. God can only be experienced in the present moment.

The other day I met with a dear mentor who said one her teachers is helping her ask herself twelve times a day, “How is your relationship with the present?”

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Throughout the day, this simple question triggers a continuum of responses. But nonetheless it helps bring her back to the present moment and to God.

In times of darkness, this is the struggle and the invitation: How can we stay present? How can we be with what is instead of hurriedly trying to get to a better, brighter human experience?

Contemplative prayer helps us practice being present.

So as I mentioned, lately I have felt in the dark. Alone. On my own.

Where are you God? Why aren’t you answering my prayers and hearts longings like I want? Like I expected you to?

Am I not good enough? Not worthy enough? Not really beloved?

That familiar train of thought is rooted in questions of identity. Who am I? How do I compare with others? Am I special?

Questions of identity can be a dark place for sure. And if we’re not careful, such questions can quickly turn to self-absorption, self-pity and self-loathing. Ugh! Self absorption is such a bottomless pit!

When life doesn’t unfold as we want it to or expect it to, we’re vulnerable. We’re vulnerable to tempting thoughts that uproot us from our identity as beloved children of God.

And if we don’t skillfully arrest such thoughts with contemplative practice and prayer and simple exercises like asking, “How is your relationship with the present?,” we’re vulnerable to actions motivated by a compulsion to numb the ache or quench the thirst of our insecure self. Such compulsions can be so strong and so destructive.

But as much as dark seasons can threaten to uproot us, they are opportunities to actually deepen our roots in God.

Darkness is a time of testing. (James 1:2-4)

Darkness is a time of strengthening. (Romans 5:3-4)

Darkness is a time of being refined. (Psalm 66:10-12, Isaiah 48:10, Zechariah 13:9)

The invitation is to turn from such destructive patterns of thought so we can live (Ezekial 18:21-28).

With a little awareness of the inner tension and struggle and a little time to tend to our inner ache through prayer, Grace allows us to be with our pain and let it transform us.

This week as I noticed my compulsion to ruminate about the past, I realized that I was questioning my place in this world. I was looking to outer circumstances to affirm my place in the world and my place with God. But it didn’t stop there. The questions beneath the questions were questions not only about my identity but God’s.

Who is God when plans don’t unfold as I expect? Is God really all that intimately involved in my life? Does God really care about my work, about me? I desperately wanted a material sign that God was for me.

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In my agony I turned to the Daily Reading to pray with the text (Lectio Divina), hoping God would show up even in the midst of serious doubts about God and my struggle to connect with God’s presence.

Now…sometimes when I read Scripture, I get nothing. Nothing resonates. Nothing connects. But this time, immediately the text from Luke 11:29-32 arrested me:

“While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”

Ouch! I was immediately put in my place.

As the text went on, Jesus said a couple of times,

“There is something greater here.”

“There is something greater here.”

There is something greater than seemingly thwarted plans. There is something greater than not getting my way. There is something greater than perfect circumstances. There is something greater than the negative emotions I’m experiencing.

It was a grace-filled moment sitting with my brokenness, sitting with this text, sitting with the “Word Became Flesh.”

It was a transcendent experience.

God showing up in God’s way, in God’s time.

I was at once convicted, humbled, intrigued and comforted.

There is something greater.

And it’s that something, beneath the surface layer circumstances of life that enables us to experience Peace that transcends understanding.

Reflection

  • Are you currently experiencing darkness? How do you know? Does it make itself known through particular kinds of thoughts or actions? List them.
  • When facing such darker aspects of your spiritual journey, what options do you have? List two or three actions or practices you can incorporate to be present to the work God wants to do in you.

 

*photo credit 1: Peonia at morguefile.com

*photo credit 2: Bill Sitzmann

*photo credit 3: Sgarton at morguefile.com

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