Bright skies were overwhelmed by darkness on September 11, 2001. That darkness lingers in Americans even to this day. Even though the darkness recedes into some hidden place in our being, we carry that darkness because we can do nothing else. Darkness is a companion of life. How we hold it within us is the important thing.
Were you surprised looking at the front page of the Democrat & Chronicle on Sept. 4th to see (the new) Saint Teresa of Kolkata described as being a woman whose inner life was steeped in darkness? By her own admission, she had known from the late 1950’s a spiritual dryness – what Saint John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.” In bits and pieces, this is what Saint Teresa said of herself over the years: “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss of God not wanting me – of God not being God – of God not existing...I find no words to express the depths of the darkness…If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of the ‘darkness’.”
And yet she served the poor faithfully, found Jesus in the needy, admonished would-be missionaries who wanted to join her to stay home because the poor are there as well. Saint Teresa was impelled by the love of God, and that is what sustained her through the darkness.
You and I, like Teresa, have a spiritual life, be it big or small, ripening or waning. As with so many other aspects of our life, we’d like to be in control of our spiritual journey – in charge, so to speak. We’d like to say “Now. This much and no more. No. I can’t hear you, God. How about doing it this way.”
We miss the point completely if, in talking about our spiritual life, we don’t spend time with God in prayer. But “God and me” is not enough. With God, we embrace and are embraced by others, serve others. Like Saint Teresa. Like the first responders on 9/11.
We need to work at our spiritual lives daily, yet not be satisfied that we are safely on our way to some sort of spiritual success. Sometimes we over-plan our spiritual lives, set limits or goals. But our relationship with God is about none of these. It is about being open, paying attention to the small and the large signals that come our way that help us move toward God even if we can’t see God as we would like – even if we experience darkness and have no taste for God.
Every person who wishes to grow into God needs time for quiet/solitude. Saint Teresa certainly did. You do. I do. Quiet allows us to be astonished about what God is doing in our midst or out there or in each of us. Peace requires a measure of quiet. Find a place in the garden of your heart where peace can take root. Take time – even if only minutes – for quiet.
Thomas Merton once observed that “When we pray, we are always in over our heads.” We swim against God, at times, resist God because we don’t want to challenge our complacencies, patterns, the sinfulness we are somehow comfortable in. We may even like our misery. Don’t take that away. What does it take not to swim against God? For one thing, relax. Let God be God. Allow yourself to be cherished, treasured, held close by God .
If need be, emulate Teresa of Kolkata. Don’t be afraid to live in the darkness for a while. God will find you there.
~ Sister Joan Sobala