Recently I was talking with a friend who challenged my identity, sense direction and questioned my very purpose in life (at least that was my experience of the conversation). I began to feel thrust into darkness—questioning everything I was thinking, feeling and doing. It was an overwhelming sense of darkness that left me motionless, wordless and despondent.
Yet, life had to go on. There were things I needed to do. But these only seemed to intensify the aloneness, the sense of numbness I felt. Words like dis-couraged, dis-illusioned came in attempts to describe the experience but to no avail. Was this an experience of ego deflation? Was it yet another round of what John of the Cross describes as a ‘Night of Faith’?
“Keep your eyes on the horizon,” a friend counseled. “Look above the waters of struggle and see the horizon.” Her words resonated in me that this was about something more than a wounded ego. It was about living more fully into the One who is my vision and my direction. It is so easy to feel the cold darkness when the lights have been extinguished. It is impossible to actually ‘see’ the horizon when it is a dark night.
This morning as I awaited my first appointment in San Antonio, a man stopped to say that the overhanging branches from the trees were too low for him to walk safely on the sidewalk. He had a gentle face with soft dark brown eyes, wrinkled brown skin – an elderly man from the neighborhood. I explained that I was not on the church staff but that I would leave a note for someone who could take care of the matter. His response was “I should not have assumed”!
What a liberating sentence that was. Assumption had catapulted me into my ‘dark night’. It swallowed my courage, my drive, imagination and sense of direction. As I looked into the dark face and eyes of this man, I smiled and said ‘Thank you so much’ feeling quite certain he would never know how liberating that sentence was for me.
As he started to leave, he hesitated and said “I am from the Baptist Church down the street. Some years ago a verse from Philippians chapter 3 has guided me all my years.”
He then went on to quote it saying:
Forgetting what is behind me
And straining toward what is ahead
I press on toward the goal
To win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus
– Verse 13-14
My heart skipped a beat as he spoke those words. Surely an angel of God had come and ministered to me!
Each of us undergoes the ‘night’. It is both a universal experience and a profoundly personal source of transformation. It overwhelms the intellect, confounds the memory and dries the will leaving us unable to move in any direction. Yet, in the night we are deeply touched by the Presence of God. Sometimes we hear a word, see a smile, hold a hand or receive a gift that helps us know who we are and where we are going. There are truly angels among us ministering when we most need it and often least expect it.
They help us understand at a deep level the poetry of St. John of the Cross who could cry out “O blessed night”!