"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." ― Rainer Maria Rilke
When have you walked the way of the cross? Does the looming liturgical holy week invite you to reflect on the turning of life's seasons? What do you do with grief that often interrupts our life's drifts?
I am constantly aware of the seasons and how they change. The seasons are both intrapersonal and environmental. As autumn arrives, we are reminded of the impending winter. It is not yet winter. The autumn that precedes winter and the metaphorical seasons we experience through our lived experiences can elicit fear in some and excitement in others. Dread because the autumn and winter seasons are associated with sadness, heartbreak, loneliness, illness, struggle, and loss. Autumn and winter are associated with dark creativity for those with more melancholy personalities. Whatever one's mental attitude toward autumn and winter, the seasons can shade, turn, and transform.
Sue Monk-Kidd awoke one autumn to a growing darkness and cacophony as if something deep within was crying out. She hears a chorus of voices, some of which are orphaned. She writes that the voices seemed to speak for all of her unlived parts, and they came with such force and dazzle that she could not keep up with them. "They appeared to push the boundaries of my existence. They were the cries of a new self struggling to be born, I realize now."
Inner melancholic seasons were wrestled with by mystics such as St John of the Cross and Therese of Avila. The dark nights of the soul, according to John of the Cross, and the period of renunciation, according to Teresa of Avilla. Teresa of Avilla proposed that we can distinguish between different types of suffering by paying attention to the source of the pain and its purpose. Renunciatory pain can be shared in mystical communion with individuals such as Jesus. Others in our time who have participated in this renunciatory struggle include Archbishop Demond Tutu and Mother Theresa, who willingly accepted self-emptying in order to bring more of what God desired into the world through them.
In his seminal book, Original Blessing, theologian Matthew Fox suggests the negative path as a way to God. According to Matthew Fox, the Via Negativa's commandment is "Thou shalt dare the dark." Every spiritual path I respect teaches us that we must brave the depths of ourselves to move beyond life's superficialities and develop an authentic relationship with our souls and the divine. We must enter the darkness to realize that we are more than the darkness, the pain, the fear, anger, hurt, or whatever.
In The Middle Passage, depth psychologist James Hollis says that when we pursue perpetual happiness, we are caught in one of the grandest illusions, believing that happiness is an actual state that one can discover and live permanently. He suggests that our lot is often to wallow in the swamplands of the soul, lived by a slew of bleak denizens such as loneliness, loss, grief, doubt, depression, despair, anxiety, guilt, and betrayal, to name a few. What saves us from permanently living in despair is our marginal awareness that our cognitive domain is not the all-powerful commander we might think it is. Hollis reminds us that transformative suffering has a purpose beyond our conscious control, and our task is to live through these states and find meaning in them.
We live in a world that is constantly seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. I am all too aware of my tendency to avoid pain. Any amount of pain causes me to evaluate my life negatively. What if, rather than glorifying suffering, I welcomed the self-emptying import of life's sufferings? Is that following the path of the cross? Could that be a way to participate in Christ's life? Does Paul's "I live, yet not I. Christ lives in me" exclamation express something for us?
I constantly resist the temptation to prescribe a way out of the present dark night and suffering. Wiser people have worked hard to end suffering but have concluded that suffering is a constant companion. We can continue to discern our sufferings so that we are engaged in meaningful pain. Our hearts can become livelier when we go through periods of metanoia. We can sit beside what Trevor Hudson calls a "pool of tears." We can sit beside our own and others' pools of tears.
Have you ever wondered about the autumn and winter seasons of your life? Sue Monk-Kidd invites us to inquire about what happened to our ability to dwell in the unknowing, to live inside a question, and to coexist with the tensions of uncertainty, imploring us to let our hearts wait in the metamorphic season of our lives.