When your waking thought is ‘I don’t want to live this day’, you know you’re off the map that this world gives, a far cry indeed from the perfection and wonder of shiny present giving and cosy family gatherings, those images that bombard us from every tv, storefront, magazine and web page at this time of year.
Sadly, you also know you’re off the map the mainstream Church provides. Even if you’ve managed to get past the heritage of English Victoriana or the bustle of Bethlehem Square and St Peter’s Square to find an ancient tradition that speaks of quiet and presence, even then, the desolate experience of emptiness remains at such odds with the insistence of Advent truths: new birth and the coming of the One who breaks in again, here and now, today.
Such desolation brings forth the loneliest wail in the universe.
I feel utterly alone, and cut off from any experience of God.
And it does not help at that moment to know that others have also woken this day with the same voice shouting in their mind.
My grief at being dragged into the pain the daylight brings is not something I thank a so-called-God for.
I am told I must get up and face this day. Quelling the rebel yell of my ‘why?’, I obey and swim to some sort of surface, direct myself towards where I am told the light is.
And I remain numb, stumbling through whatever tasks the hours ahead bring, counting down the minutes until I am ‘allowed’ to find escape into the non-being of sleep, the nearest equivalent to death I can find.
Except, of course, that sleep is an elusive gift at these times of deep sadness. And I lie awake through the long reaches of the night, unsuccessful in my attempts to quiet my sobbing brain or find a position to comfort and cocoon my searing aching body. At long last I fall into an uneasy snooze, only to be woken, not an hour later, by the same waking thought: ‘I don’t want to live this day.’
This story has characterised great swathes of my last twenty five years. This waking thought occurred to me again only yesterday.
And yet, somehow, I am still alive to write this. I am living those days, enduring, getting through, waiting them out. Why? Because, somehow, I cling to the belief that this darkness, this cold numbness, this cotton wool veil that clouds and distorts my vision, is not the whole story.
The poets, the painters, the prophets tell me so. And by an act of will that grinds itself out from the base of my being, (that I dumbly glimpse has nothing to do with my feeble strength and everything to do with Grace), I choose to believe them.
And what do they say? As if with one breath: ‘Turn: and face the darkness’. There is no escape, the pain cannot be eluded, so turn, turn and look at what it is that pursues you; and see it true, for there you will find your healing. And their next breath holds the promise: this darkness you look into will not overwhelm you; it too, is not the whole story, but this is where you need to start.
And so I begin again. Deliberately choosing to enter into the place of feeling broken, hurt and exhausted, deliberately opening myself up to exploring the sense of the absence of God, deliberately welcoming the tears as they stream, in the knowledge it is all for my healing. These tears are a gift of joy in the wilderness say the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and again, I choose to believe them, opening my heart to that possibility at the very same time my mind screams this is pure folly.
Time and again I practice: practice being present to the moment that feels like an absence – a universal hole in the fabric of time and space itself – trusting that beyond my conscious knowing, this very same moment is filled with the fragrance of holiness that ushers forth Presence.
Time and again I practice: practice being silent, enduring the silence, quieting my inner wailing, relaxing my straining muscles seeking to hear the beckoning invitation of Love, God-with-us.
Time and again I practice: leaning into the shadows because their very existence speaks paradoxically of the Light, to be revealed at a time not of my choosing, assured of its coming if I will but sit with it and wait in the darkness.
In trust, in obedience, in fear, in courage, healing will come.
This is the Light of the World: that our God desires only our full wellness and our flourishing in abundance. Knowledge of this wondrous truth brings freedom then from all of the tugging into destruction my mind can create. God longs for us to receive the gift of this freedom anew day by day.
Daily, God invites us into a relationship with darkness to find the Light. As Tom Wright says, ”Jesus invites us to walk ahead into the darkness and discover that it, too, belongs to God.”
Knowing this allows me to live with whatever forms my illness may take. Knowing this helps me live just one day more in the hope that the living Light within me will spill over towards all those I encounter this day, for their growth and healing, and mine.
thanks for sharing
Thank you Alex
Kate, you have put into words what my life 10 years ago (and periodically since then) was like. Thank you for your beautiful courage and transparency. Your story will help others heal. Blessings sister.
Thank you Rebecca. To help others to heal is such a powerful reason for keeping on writing and I pray that through God’s Grace, anything I say may be used to help someone somewhere. Thank you for your encouragement. All Advent blessings to you.
This is an amazing piece of truth and faith. God bless your wonderful heart, my sister.
As ever your encouragement to keep on writing means so much Keren. Thank you. All Advent blessings to you.
Thank you… That is a profound sharing.
Oh gosh! Such truth here (fellow sufferer). Brilliantly written, thank you for sharing.
Bless you fellow sufferer. Hope today doesn’t find you so much in the slough of despond and that you can write some of your fantastic poetry…
Thank you. You and your family have been much in my thoughts and prayers.
Thank you for such a powerful piece. You have described what I feel and what I’ve been struggling with. To embrace the darkness knowing that God is there is an insight I will continue to reflect on along with your entire essay. I have hope. Thank you again, and Advent and Christmas blessings to you.
Thank you for your encouragement Rosemary. I pray you will indeed find an experience of the God who breaks in, God-with-us, deep in the midst of your struggles this Christmas. All peace-filled Advent blessings to you.
Kate, in keeping things so achingly real, this heart-rending piece speaks volumes to all. You enter territory that literally terrifies many, and yet you somehow find the courage to cling to God, to face the darkness within and without and to voice your thoughts here. Oh, brave sister, my heart goes out to you, especially as this is a stark reminder of my own forages into the dark side. It’s all too horribly real. Although threaded through these lines is a lifebelt of grace which sustains and keeps a head above water for one more day and the next and so on… Praying for you and for all who seek yet find little hope or peace in this season. May the glimmers of light grow stronger and brighter over time as you rest your weary soul in God.
Thank you so much Joy for taking the time and using up precious energy to respond. Your encouragement means so much and our shared knowledge of the dark side with its threaded through life belt of Grace (superb image) makes me full of heartfelt gladness that I am your sister, and you are mine. As I sit unable to make midnight communion yet again (my favourite service of the year!) I pray with you for all who seek those glimmers. In hope that you have a moment of profound peace and restoration this Christmas, all blessings to you.
Dear Kate, I hope and pray you too have had a moment (or more) of “profound peace and restoration” since the extra busyness and demands of the Christmas season. Please forgive my late reply. One day I may achieve getting to grips with my hugely overflowing inbox and deal with them more quickly! Blessings of rest, peace and improved health for you in the months ahead.