“Cross in the Wilderness”, Frederic Edwin Church, 1857.
If you’ve followed my blog for sometime, you know that I’ve been spiritually dry for several years now. St. John of the Cross describes these times as “The Dark Night of the Soul”. This is a term I use with trepidation, but cautiously accepted it when I saw my life described in La Noche Oscura del Alma. Recent events have only aggravated the deepening sense of loss and loneliness that San Juan de la Cruz wrote about centuries ago. It’s really kind of eerie just how accurate he was.
In the last few years, I’ve been cast repeatedly into the outer darkness, the far side of the desert. Every time I’ve seen the Jordan flowing in the distance, I’m told to turn and circle around the mountain a few more times. All of them tell me to go back: relationally, spiritually, professionally, so on and so forth. Go back just a few more times, perhaps, until I’m ready to raise mine ebenezer with the blessed. So, I pound the same path that my feet have trod.
Yet again, around that mountain I go. I read. I listen. I open the same damn Prayerbook and pray the same damn Psalter. I read the same damn blogs about the damn crisis-of-the-day in my beloved Episcopal Church. Damn it, I roll my eyes and just wish everybody would shut up and pray for once. I give the same damn confession. I put words on page and on the screen — for years, the same damn words ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Most days, I just want off this damn train allegedly bound for glory.
I try not to let my damn heart be hardened.
I find swearing helps immensely. I’d apologize if this offends your pseudo-Christian sensibilities, but this is my faith crisis, not yours. You’re welcome to frame yours however you like. But I’m going to frame mine by swearing, damn it.
And how some love to frame my crisis however they want to: “Look, it has purpose!”, they say whenever something good happens. But, they do not have to return to home to meaninglessness when the good ends. They’re not the ones on that same damn path for the dozenth time. They get to go back to a comfortingly familiar Deity, while I have to be silent towards the Awful Mystery that is I AM THAT I AM. They throw water on the burning bush because ecological hazards; I take my shoes off, choking on the smoke.
The only sympathetic voices I hear are the Mystics, the Existentialists and the Atheists — all marginalized (and almost hated) voices in American Christianity. But they understand that Faith is paradox and doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to anybody. They know that life can only be understood backward, but can only be lived forward. They know that some narratives only work for posthumous biographies, not as dictums for living. “It’s all about the journey” gives them nausea, too. They don’t try to comprehend life, they just live it.
I want to live life. Me. I have an essence that I’ve struggled for, and by God’s grace, I am who I am. No one can take that from me — no one can take me from me. Not the liars, the petty, the small, the thieves, or the ungrateful. The umpteenth time around this damn mountain can’t take it from me. In fact because of this and all of these, I’m discovering anew a strength I didn’t know: I know who I am and I like who I’m becoming. Sartre was right, life does begin on the far side of despair.
In darkness, faith is little more than stubbornness. I keep crawling on the obscured path because I’m a stubborn old bastard set in his ways. Because I’ve been proved right before. But, sadly, nobody understands that. On my best of days, I barely begin to understand it. And, yet. And, yet.
Let others love the bawdy light and harangue over explanations ridding faith of paradox, despair and angst. Let others vie for position. Let others seek attention. It is easier to sing my faith than speak it; it easier to pray my belief than to believe it.
If you need me, you know where I’ll be.