We’re always questioning the darkness in our lives. What good is it? Why does God allow it? Here are Ann Spangler’s thoughts:
Larry Crabb says that we find God only when we need him. Simple words, but true. It’s like looking for the light switch in a dark room. No one goes searching for it until the sunlight has gone. Similarly, darkness can impel our search for God.
Several years ago I met the last survivor pulled from the wreckage after the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. During our time together, Genelle Guzman-McMillan told me a story about flirting with faith but choosing to live without it. Then, on September 11, her world fell apart and she found herself in complete darkness, buried alive under a mountain of rubble
You can read the rest here.
For those days when you don’t feel any emotion in prayer and/or resist serving Him, but do so anyway:
“A very high degree of love of God is quite compatible with an absence of any feeling of emotion, and even with a feeling of distaste for the service of God. We have only to remember our Lord’s prayer in the agony of Gethsemane to realize that. In fact, if one is going to achieve the heights of the spiritual life, it is necessary to pass through a stage where one’s apparent spiritual activity is reduced to a dry act of willingness to conform one’s self to God’s Will in the darkness of a sheer decision to believe in God without light of any sort.” (Fr. M. Eugene Boylan)
This is such a profound insight, one that is applicable to all of us in various ways:
” . . . the way Mother Teresa learned to deal with her trial of faith: by converting her feeling of abandonment by God into an act of abandonment to God.” (Carol Zaleski)
A beautiful excerpt from Michael O’Brien’s A Cry of Stone which illustrates well my last post.
In the drowsy sun of an autumn afternoon, she sat sketching the brightly colored trees in a little park not far from the house. The walkways were temporarily deserted and at the moment when she felt most grateful for this haven of peace, a noise of galloping hoofs thundered around a curve in the path. A rushing shape approached through piles of red leaves, scattering them left and right . . . .
Rose tore her eyes from her drawing to see two gasping little girls running hand in hand. They went past at a tremendous clip, leaving in their wake a whir of whipped air, spiraling leaves, and a stream of sound like a long, pure note, as if they were humming together.
One child was blind. Her eyes were gouged and scarred, her head nodding in a sightless headlong plunge, her face intent on nothing save the grip of her companion’s hand the unsuspected thickness of air, and the taste of utter exhilaration. On the face of her seeing friend were other ecstasies–large, open, race-horse eyes, the panting thoroughbred power of giving the impossible thing. The seeing girl had bestowed upon her blind friend a different form of sight, the feeling of wind on skin, of small unused muscles pumping at catastrophic speed, the awesome pitch through treacherous air that always contained within it the threat of collision, and the promise of soaring.
There is my soul, thought Rose. O, O, ay, ay, that I might trust what you are doing with me in this rushing darkness.
If you are that blind child, put your full trust in the One holding your hand.
I have been going through my fairly hefty journal filled with mostly quotes. I came across one that I blogged about nearly five years ago, so I thought I would share it again. I love his analogy.
I ran across this piece by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange when I was going through a very dark time of prayer. What he has to say applies also, of course, to any times of darkness in our lives–times when we can’t see the ending, wondering if it will be good or bad. (Of course, God works everything for the good, but sometimes it’s hard to even see that, isn’t it?) Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes: “If we are saddened at the approach of twilight, God could well answer us by saying: How can I otherwise reveal to you all those thousands of stars which can only be seen at night?” Isn’t that the truth–we can only see stars if there is darkness–and a deep darkness at that. And we can only see certain spiritual things (of just as much beauty as the stars on a clear, clear night) if we walk through certain darknesses that God allows. “To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Ps 123.1) Lift up your eyes!
Amy Carmichael starts this piece by asking: “Do you ever find prayer difficult because of tiredness or dryness?” If your answer is yes, read on.
Ps 31.5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
Do you ever find prayer difficult because of tiredness or dryness? When that is so, it is an immense help to let the Psalms and hymns we know by heart say themselves or sing themselves inside us. This is possible anywhere and at any time.
We can’t be mistaken in using this easy, open way of prayer, for our Lord Jesus used it. His very last prayer, when He was far too tired to pray as He usually did, was Psalm 31.5. Every Jewish mother used to teach her child to say those words as a good-night prayer.
Hymns, little prayer-songs of our own, even the simplest of them, can sing us into His love. Or more truly, into the consciousness of His love, for we are never for one moment out of it.
From a letter from Helen Roseveare to a struggling paraplegic friend:
“Going back to your letter-you have said, ‘It’s one thing not to know His purposes for my life, but it’s another matter not to know what He wants of me.’ No, no! That is the next step in the darkness. We do not have to know anything except that He is El-Shaddai–He is the great Almighty Creator God who loves me and loves you, and in some amazing way, who has chosen us to be part of His program. He does NOT have to explain to us how or when or in what way. Let Him have YOU, all of you, all your thought processes, all your desperate desire to understand, to know the meaning of this whole protracted process. Stop hankering to know what He is not choosing to explain to you yet.Oh,how relatively easy to write that, but how infinitely harder to put it into practice. Give over to Him the longing for the joy and peace of the past. Just let Him be the ALL for you in the present.”
Catherine Doherty writes about the love that finds us in the darkness:
Through faith we are able to turn our faces to God and meet his gaze. Each day becomes more and more luminous. The veil between God and man becomes less and less until it seems as if we can almost reach out and touch God.
Faith is a pulsating thing; a light, a sun that nothing can dim if it exists in the hearts of men. That’s why it’s so beautiful. God gives it to me saying, “I love you. Do you love me back? Come and follow me in the darkness. I want to know if you are ready to go into the things that you do not see yet, on faith alone.”
Then you look at God, or at what you think is God in your mind, and you say, “Look, this is fine, but you’re inviting me to what? An emptiness? A nothingness? There is nothing to see. I cannot touch you. I cannot feel you.” Then God goes on to say, “I invite you to a relationship of love: your love of me, my love of you.” Yes, God comes to us as an invitation to love. . . .
At this moment love surges in our heart like a tremendous sea that takes us in and lays us in the arms of God whom we haven’t seen but in whom we believe. Across the waves we hear, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20.29). Now I walk in the darkness of faith and I see. I see more clearly than is possible with my fleshly eyes.
(Catherine Doherty, Re-entry into Faith: “Courage–be not afraid!”)
I thought I might entice you by a quote or two from Contemplative Provocations by Fr. Donald Haggerty. (I’d really like to quote the whole book!)
Contemplative prayer is initiated undramatically–one might say in a concealed, subtle, confusing manner. One symptom is a dry discomfort in prayer like the bodily ache of a fever that does not subside. The aridity contrast with the prior experience of prayer, when a consoling sense of God’s presence was enjoyed. Now there is little felt contact with God, nothing savored in emotion. God seems to disappear more and more into hiding. Other symptoms as well seem incongruous as signs of growth in prayer. A focused attention on Our Lord becomes difficult. Noisy distractions disturb prayer. Petty concerns interfere with prayer and replace quiet reflections about God. The gospel pages no long offer vivid attraction. Anxious thoughts and unwelcome memories intrude, and the mind is unable to settle down. The struggle for an attentive silence and some serenity can burden an entire period of prayer. The sense of being alone, somehow separated from God, unable to prayer, does not let up.
The return each day to silent prayer in this condition means to face the discomfort of silence. There can be a strong temptation to give up prayer or to find some activity in silent prayer to counter frustration. A more superficial prayer can be adopted which discards the effort of listening in silence to God. One might opt, for instance, to spend time in prayer simply reading. In that case the dryness and distraction may lift to a degree because they are less noticed. This may seem to restore relations with God. It would be a poor exchange, however, a step backward. The soul would forfeit a grace it was beginning to taste of a deeper thirst for God. The thirst of the soul for God is stronger in the desert. It is easy, nonetheless, to run for the shade.
St. Francis de Sales, whose feast we celebrate today, has so many wonderful stories. Here is one of my favorites:
“One of the world’s finest musicians, who played the lute to perfection, in a brief time became so extremely deaf that he completely lost the use of hearing. However, in spite of that he did not give up singing and playing the lute, doing so with marvelous delicacy by reason of his great skill which his deafness had not taken away. He had no pleasure either in singing or in the sound of the lute, since after his loss of hearing he could not perceive their sweetness and beauty. Hence, he no longer sang or played except to entertain a prince whose native subject he was and whom he had a great inclination as well as an infinite obligation to please since he had been brought up from his youth in the prince’s court. For this reason he had the very greatest pleasure in pleasing the prince and he was overjoyed when the prince showed that he enjoyed his music. Sometimes it happened that to test this loving musician’s love, the prince would command him to sing and immediately leave him there in the room and go out hunting. The singer’s desire to fulfill his master’s wishes made him continue his song just as attentively as if the prince were present, although in fact he himself took no pleasure out of singing. He had neither pleasure in the melody, for his deafness deprived him of that, nor that of pleasing the prince, since the prince was absent and hence could not enjoy the sweetness of the beautiful airs he sang.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 9, Chapter 9)