November 15, 2009


The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. Mk 13: 24

Anyone who has lived long enough will have experienced at least one moment when life blindsides us with a sledgehammer, knocking us to our knees & leaving us disoriented, not knowing what to think. At such times, it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other without any sense of meaning or purpose to it all. Our self-esteem is gone, & thoughts of suicide are not uncommon.

The saints did not escape this experience, & St. John of the Cross even had a name for it: “The Dark Night of the Soul,” when God seems distant & irrelevant. We feel abandoned, & the world is a dark place indeed. Paradoxically, such times offer a tremendous spiritual opportunity, for it is only when we have lost our human grounding that we are open to the possibility of divine grounding. It is only when we realize that our human resources are too inadequate to cope with a trauma that is not momentary but can extend over a period of months or even years, when we can entertain the idea that there must be more to life than what we have known heretofore. We are, as it were, suspended between heaven & earth; & which one we choose will have fateful consequences.

The problem is when we are in the midst of transition, we cannot envision the new. We have to take the poet T.S. Eliot’s difficult advice: “I said to my soul be still, & wait without hope, for hope would be hope in the wrong thing.” Change may happen quickly, but transition is a slower process. It involves how we adjust to the change, grieving over what has been lost, feeling we are without our bearings & looking for what we know not.

As John of the Cross discovered, it is at such times that the still, small voice of God can get through to us. As the old saying goes, it is always darkest before the dawn. The problem is knowing when that darkest moment has been reached. Another old joke puts it this way: “They told me to cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up, & sure enough, things got worse.” It is the uncertainty that is most trying of all.

Those who have not anchored their life in deep spiritual resources can be blown away by such experiences, & there are a thousand ways of not coping. That is why it is so important not to wait until such times to find out if we have the spiritual resources not just to survive in stiff upper lip fashion, but to come out the other side strengthened & renewed. This is where God’s grace is absolutely vital. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that our Lord Himself was perfected through suffering. Should we expect anything less?

Painful as such times can be, they are the moments that build our character – not the times when things are going our way. Some of the saints prayed for suffering, not because they were masochists, but because they realized it was the primary way to be purified of their egotistical pride. They also knew that God would be there holding their hands even when they were least aware of it. Learning to trust God in the lean times is the secret of joy. AMEN!