Wednesday, October 10, 2012
I Am In A Dark Place
The priest paused before he began the Intercessory Prayers at this morning’s mass, searching for the right words. The young girl prayed for by so many from the parish this past six months as she valiantly fought a brain tumor, had died. “In this church space,” the priest began, “in two hours will be the funeral mass of the young lady from our parish, from our parish school, who died from cancer. Pray for many hundreds of elementary school children who will be here this morning, for the high school children attending who prayed and worked so hard for her and her family, and for the family and friends who will gather there, that God will look with mercy upon them.”
I don’t quite remember the other things we prayed for this morning, but they seemed not nearly as important. In this past 24 hours, I’ve had a number of occasions to think on what really is important.
Last night I finished reading the section of the catechism titled “Life in Christ.” We read about the ninth and tenth commandments, and what it means to covet. In short, it said that “envy must be banished from the human heart.” It spoke about our desires for things of this world, and the difficulties of the rich man gaining heaven. Things are not important, it implied. But the words of the catechism tread softly about wanting happiness, the happiness we seem to think that so many others have. And when we don’t have it, we may envy those who do, and we may feel that we are in a dark place.
I’m sure some of the people at the funeral mass this morning will be feeling darkness. “Why does God permit this?” some will ask. Others will see injustice: “This isn’t right; she never did anything wrong to deserve this.” And perhaps there will be a few who will be detached from it all: “Death happens. There’s nothing we can do about it. God doesn’t care.” These will be the ones who think they have it figured out; and perhaps they are in the darkest place of all, for they don’t even look for a light.
Last night after reading and discussing the catechism topics, the woman next to me said: “I am in a dark place.” She went on to explain that she had lost her job --- again. She was confused about God and His intentions for her. She said how much she trusted Him, but “He isn’t there anymore.” She no longer felt His presence as she once had, and now she felt so alone. Seeking solace, she received much advice, all of it conflicting and confusing to her, some even telling her she committed great sins in arriving where she is at --- “and I thought I was doing things God wanted me to”.
“I don’t want to be a burden when I am like this,” she said. “I just ramble and make people irritated at me.” Wanting to be alone in her anxieties, she needed a light in her darkness, but she seemed to fear matches or even an unlit candle. “I need to work this out alone.”
She called me shortly after she left my house, and again a while later. And then she called again while I was on my way to midnight adoration, and again shortly after I had entered the church. And again in the early hours of the morning: “I don’t want to feel like this anymore. No one can help. I’m just a burden to all around me.” She spoke of feeling alone, and the world being better off without her.
As part of my late night adoration times, I am reading a book called the Gospel of Suffering, by Soren Kierkegaard, considered one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of all time. Coincidently, if such things are really coincidences, my bookmark was at the head of his chapter titled: Contentment With Our Common Humanity. It was a chapter explaining Matthew 6:24-34, the focus of my blog: Do not be anxious. At one point he says: “All worldly concern is at bottom due to the fact that a man is not satisfied with the fact of being human, that by means of the comparison he anxiously desires to be different.” Kierkegaard notes “that subsistence anxieties result from comparison; here, namely, in the appalling way that the man is not satisfied with being human, but wishes to compare himself with God, wishes to have security through his own efforts, which no man dares to have, which security, therefore, is also precisely the care for the earthly necessities.” Man, he notes, finds it difficult to be like the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, trusting in God’s care for his subsistence. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, like the son who remained home in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, many a man seeks to earn what he gets from God, and wishes to tell God what He must give him, because he earned it. Man is not content to be like man, a mere human, he wants more.
Whether he never knew or he forgot, man HAS been promised more. God promised him more than this earthly existence, in heaven. There he shall indeed be like a God, part of the heavenly body of Christ. But man wants that happiness now, and therein creates his own unhappiness.
The Book of Job in the Bible tells a great story of a man in a time of deep darkness, perhaps as dark a situation as any man can find himself in. And Job too did not understand his pain. And Job too had friends who gave him all sorts of advice or explanations, including their attempts at reading the mind of God: you must have done some great sin for Him to punish you so. And Job’s faith was tested, and so he tested God: “Why are you doing this to me?” And God’s answer was merely to explain to Job that he was human, nothing more --- and yet that was so much.
My friend last night was sometimes speaking like that. She quoted from Psalm 95: “Forty years I endured that generation. I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways.’ So I swore in my anger, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” She said: “That is how God feels about me now. He’s punishing me. I can’t talk to Him.” She thought she could read the mind of God. I offered to her what counsels came into my heart, but all were rejected. She wished to figure it out herself, or despair that it could never be figured out. When I returned from church and she called in the early morning hours one of the things she wanted to know was: “What did you say to Him about me?” She worried any talk of her plight might only make God more angry with her. There were no words to give her peace.
I am in a dark place.
A young child dies, and people don’t understand the tragedy. An adult wants to die, and doesn’t understand the tragedy. I wrote recently here of a dark place, a dark feeling in our country, but that doesn’t compare to a singular dark feeling in a soul, a soul which feels like a sole, alone.
As I sat here writing these thoughts, I lit a candle on the table next to me ---- that’s what they are for, right? I could have turned on the kitchen light, to brighten the room, but I couldn’t focus right now on a large room and all the things in it. When you are in the dark, it doesn’t help to hear that there is so much brightness out there, or even to have someone stick your head out the window into the sunshine. The dark isn’t outside you; it is inside. And to reach that darkness you don’t need a light bulb or even the sun, you need a little flame, a glimmer of hope that you can turn to. Something to hang onto, something which you hope will someday dispel the darkness. A start.
Despair has you sitting in the dark, not moving. Despair has you confidently knowing "I am alone." Despair has you unwilling to think that there will ever be a light. But if you have Faith, you can have Hope, and if you have Hope you can conquer all despair. Faith is reaching out into the darkness and believing, even though you cannot see, that you are not alone. Faith is not sitting in the darkness, but walking forward, blindly, but still reaching out, for Someone you know is there. Faith is admitting to yourself that you KNOW someone is there. And then going on.
Job, even in his despair had faith; in the darkness, he spoke to God about his feelings. I pray and I believe that the parents and children attending the funeral mass this morning will have faith, and they will feel God’s mercy. They will not wallow in despair over the loss of such a beautiful child. They will reach out, and move forward. And I pray and believe that my friend will also. And I expect that someday she will look back, like Job, and admit: “I WAS in a dark place, but now I see the Light.”
I wish the same for all of you, my friends, who are staring at the darkness.