Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Dark Night and Addiction

A couple weeks ago, I picked up an old favorite of mine at the library: The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May. In it, May, a psychiatrist, uses the works of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross to "explore the connection between darkness and spiritual growth." May defines the darkness he speaks of not as evil, but as obscurity that comes from God. Simply put, the dark night of the soul is the feeling of God's absence.

If you've read some of the latests posts around here, you'll know that I've been experiencing my own dark night for the last five years, though I've only just begun to write of it. When I first read The Dark Night of the Soul a couple years ago, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and came to the conclusion that maybe the darkness I was experiencing wasn't meant to be fixed.

Since then, I have learned a whole lot more about God and myself and community through stillness and contemplation and pretty much giving up than I had in the previous three years through effort and discipline. When I finally decided to take a break from church a couple weeks ago, I was curious what insight the book might have for me in this new season. So I headed to the library and promptly tore through it, dog-earing every other page or so.

This time around, one of the most powerful sentences in the book for me was this one: "We have made an idol our images and feelings of God, giving them more importance than the true God they represent."

Here in the evangelical culture of the bible belt, we talk a lot about idols. In this context, nearly everything can be an idol: money, careers, marriages, self, drugs, food, even service. Never in my life, though, have I ever heard anyone suggest I could make an idol out of my experience of God. More importantly, I didn't know it was possible to wake up to find the Presence I had long worshipped absent, leaving me flailing and grasping for any hint of comfort to keep my head above water.

To be honest, in the months before my dark night began, I was little more than an addict, needing a bigger hit of spiritual connection each day to keep my soul satisfied. Then suddenly, my drugs were mysteriously cut off, God absent. For too long afterward, I tried returning again and again to the suppliers that had always come through for me before, the Bible, church, prayer, but they all came up empty. For years, I had been dependent on clear answers, felt presence, spiritual comfort, but now I was left with only my commitment to going through the motions. Is it any surprise I soon found myself spiraling down into disappointment and doubt and fear?

It's only recently that I have begun to embrace the process of detoxification, of letting go of any hope of returning to the old ways. May says that the dark night is an act of emptying and resensitizing, because "it is as if we have gorged ourselves on rich meals for so long that we cannot appreciate the delicate freshness of a sip of spring water." I am certainly emptying, but honestly I don't know that I will ever feel God's presence again in my life, and that is okay, at least today. Because I don't think his absence means He is incapable of being found, only that I won't find him in the same ways. I'm not sure I want to return down those paths again anyway.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, please get your hands on The Dark Night of the Soul. There is so much insight there. I don't do sponsored posts or affiliate links. I just really want you to read this book, because you are not alone and it's not your fault. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Holy Ground

A couple weeks ago I made the decision to take a break from church. I went to one more Sunday morning service before committing myself to a time of silence and contentment. I am not looking for answers to my doubts or any type of life changing experience. I only want to learn to accept my relationship with God for what it is, distant. I only want to sit quietly in the emptiness of it and let it be okay. To do that, I need to separate myself for a time from environments that make me feel desperate for more than what I have, or who I am. I need to draw back the curtain of activity that I pretend God is hiding behind and just stare into the chasm of his absence. I need to turn the volume down on the endless Christian chatter that fills my ears, so I can hear what God sounds like alone.

One week in and the silence is already piercing.

These past several years, church has been like a security blanket for me. Until last week, it was the last thing I was holding onto that said to the world: "I know God." But the truth is I don't, not anymore. I know him like I know the person two seats over from me in the waiting room at the DMV. We sit in polite silence for as long as necessary, and we don't even make eye contact.

There is a holiness in church, in all of us gathering together despite our imperfections. I know that.

But it was just the two of them in the wilderness when God told Moses to take off his shoes.

It's my own wilderness that I'm finding in my time away from church. It is here in the intimacy of two friends sharing secrets at a forgotten corner table. It is here in the lonely hush of a sick baby and mama cuddled up with a pile of books. And it is here, even here, in the solitude of a woman barefoot and alone on the holy ground of her own living room.

*This post was inspired by a prompt found in the lovely Story Sessions community.*

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quiet Things

There is a beauty in the quiet things.

In the gentle nuzzle of tired bodies.

The silent companionship of shared meals.

There is a beauty in words unspoken.

In warm truths held close.

Old promises not forgotten.

There is a beauty in absences felt.

In fleeting images uncaptured.

Wide spaces unexplored.

There is a beauty in the quiet things

And in the nothing, too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

We can all be feminists

 Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist releases today. A little more than halfway through my advance copy, I can already tell you it is a disarming, poetic, inviting read. In celebration of Sarah's courage in writing it, I've decided to say a little something here today about why I'm a feminist. If you identify as a Christian, but the word feminism makes you feel yucky, you might take to Sarah Bessey's idea of Jesus feminism, which she likes to call "God's radical notion that women are people, too." You may also enjoy these stories of women and men whose feminism is inspired by their faith. 

I know. You hate the word. I get that.

But contrary to popular belief, there is no bouncer at the door of the feminism party, checking each of us for the proper sexual identity and political ideology before letting us in.

According to Merriam-Webster, feminism is simply "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities."

Is that something we can get behind?

Then we can be feminists, too.

Women and men. Republicans and Democrats. CEOs and stay-at-home moms.

We can all be feminists.

Because feminism isn't black or white, conservative or liberal, pro-choice or pro-life, gay or straight. Feminism is believing wholeheartedly in the women around you, in your daughters and sisters, mothers and grandmothers, wives and friends. It is moving aside to make room in the conversation for women from all walks of life, rich and poor, gay and straight, black, white, latino, native, and asian. It is listening to their stories and amplifying their voices. And it is using ours to defend their rights, wherever we find them challenged.

Can we do this?

Can we make a commitment to empower women instead of degrade them?

Can we do the uncomfortable work of challenging humor that deprives women of their humanity and complexity?

Can we walk through the door, or pick up the phone, today, and tell the women we love most that we believe in them? Can we acknowledge their gifts and support their dreams?

Because the women of the world need us.

They need us to believe in their personhood, their intellect, their contributions to society. They need to know they can begin the important work that will change this world of ours for the better. They need to hear in our voices and in our lives that they have permission to invent and create and lead.  From the giggling toddler to the aging matriarch, every one of us needs to be freed to be ourselves.

Can we do that for each other, you and I?

Congratulations. We're feminists.