Hello, my friends. I apologize for the gaps in posting. Like many of you, I find the holiday season draining, something to “get through” rather than to savor. This may change over time, or it may not. I try to be true to whatever’s real for me. I think part of my trouble with Christmastime is that so many of the associated activities are “outer” focused, and my inclination is the opposite: I just want to go within. Slip into my Advent cave and be still and quiet, reflective. This creates a sense of being out of synch with the world around me.
Luckily this winter I have been given the grace of a new book project in collaboration with my dear friend, the extraordinary iconographer Fr. Bill McNichols (http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php). I am writing a series of prose-poems on Mother Mary and the many attributes of the Divine Feminine. So I have a good excuse to withdraw from the busy universe “out there” and dwell in an interior space of quietude and wonder, which my soul craves.
As many of you know, I began my career as an author with a new translation (& interpretation) of the classic spiritual masterpiece by St. John of the Cross, DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. As you probably are also aware, the publication of this book coincided — to the day — with the death of my daughter Jenny at the end of 2001. So for me, grief and loss have been inextricably entwined with the perennial mystical teachings articulated in this powerful work.
The Dark Night of the Soul, as John conceived it, is actually an inner state that may or may not have anything to do with external circumstances. It is an experience of being stripped of all the spiritual feelings and concepts with which we are accustomed to propping up our inner lives. It is a plunge into the abyss of radical unknowingness. This spiritual crisis, John assures us, is a cause for celebration, because it is only when we get out of our own way that the Divine can take over and fill us with love. But it’s a grueling process to come to this level of surrender, and few of us go willingly.
Recently I bought the latest book by my friend Tim Farrington – a gifted writer and insightful human being. It is called A HELL OF MERCY: a Meditation on Depression and the Dark Night of the Soul (Harper One, 2009), a lucid glimpse into the ways in which an experience of profound loss and deep sorrow can act as a catalyst for an authentic Dark Night of the Soul.
Tim muses, “Whether you are truly in a “dark night” or “just” grieving is a question I have come to believe is insoluble in the midst of the process. The two experiences can certainly intertwine; often the loss of a loved one exposes the superficiality of the spiritual notions we believed to be sustaining us and challenges us to let go of them and go deeper; and the dark night, teaching us to let go of protective ideologies, often allows us to open for the first time to the nakedness of our real suffering of the death of loved ones. God uses our helplessness where it arises, and few things bring our human helplessness home to us more sharply and unavoidably than grief.“
Still, although helplessness seems to be an indispensable requirement for true transformation, the Dark Night of the Soul is not only about being brought to our knees. It is about unconditional love. The kind of love that wakes us up and affirms our deepest humanity. The act of consciously yielding to the shattering of the heart is not high on the list of cultural values. But it should be!
As Tim observes, “Grief and the experience of loss in depth gets so little space in our world… We are often encouraged to buck up, to get over it, and so to throw out the baby of the slow process of grieving with the bathwater. Grief will never go away, if we’re really paying attention. It’s part of being awake: we love, and we lose those we love to the erosions of time, sickness, and death (until those we love lose us to the same). To lose a loved one is to be called to come to genuine terms with that loss, or risk losing touch with that in us which loved.”
What are the ways in which your losses have transfigured your soul?
Hey, by the way.… I am starting to wonder if this blog is actually reaching people. Is anyone out there? Please let me know if you’re listening, and what it is you’d like to hear. Thanks! And may your grieving heart be held in deep peace.