Thursday, October 20, 2005

Life, Death and Love Chapter One

It is a Terrifying Thing

"But I, O Lord, have cried out to Thee for help, and in the morning my prayer comes before Thee. Lord, why dost Thou reject my soul? Why dost Thou hide Thy face from me? I was afflicted and about to die from my youth on, I suffer Thy terrors; I am overcome." Psalm 88:13-15

There is a dark side to spirituality.

Everyone who has walked with God knows this truth or eventually finds it out. If you have not yet had the experience or deny it is the believer's lot I will not argue with you the verity of the experience. I write this book assuming it is so; I know it is so. I don't know why it is so. I don't know where it comes from or what its purpose is. I don't know if God causes it or if He just uses it because it just IS and He is God and thus is the only one who can use it. I do know to walk in the Light means I will some days find myself standing at the edge of a dark abyss wondering if I should cast myself into it in hope against hope that God is in there somewhere. I know there is a joy only to be had from believing in God, but I know too there is a holy sorrow that comes only from believing in Him.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God, the writer of Hebrews says to the evildoer. But the Psalmist knows it is equally terrifying for the one who loves God. It seems it is a greater agony and frustration to be terrorized by rejection by our Lover, God, when we are madly in love with Him. It is truly a terrifying thing to be skillfully broken by omnipotent hands, to be left in the dark by the Light, to be abandoned by the Omnipresent One. This indeed happens to great people of faith and not only, as we would imagine, to infidels and blasphemers. Jacob, Job, Moses, Jeremiah, David, Paul, Origen, St. John of the Cross, Martin E. Marty, Frederick Buechner, (where do I stop?), all experienced it. Jesus and Job cry out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?"; the apostle Paul described it as "despairing of life itself, having the sentence of death within ourselves" in II Corinthians 1:8-9; "the dark night of the soul" is the name given it by St. John of the Cross in the 12th century; Martin E. Marty calls it "the winter of the heart". "The heart of sorrows" is my chosen name for this experience, but truly all name the same thing: It is the Gospel at work in us, the experience of the maddening finitude and ambiguities of life bound eternally to the Infinite and Mysterious God by the certainties of love and death and the wild promise of a resurrection.

The dark side of spirituality is the truth that, whether we like it or not, or whether we understand it or not, pain is most often where we meet God. It is in the dark night of the soul that we meet God in a way we can in no other place. It is the experience of the absence of God that makes His presence most acutely known. It is in the winter of the heart that we feel most forsaken by God. Yet it is standing there, abandoned by Him in the cold and dark, lost in a bleak and unfamiliar place, if we will wait for Him, that we will sooner or later meet God face to face.

And, yes, sometimes it means waiting to death.


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