America’s Dark Night of the Soul

Everything is really dark right now. The forces of evil appear are fighting to maintain the upper hand and are clearly determined to drag us as far down the ugly path of cruelty and hatred as they can with willing support from people who ought to know better but are under the thrall of hate and so don’t care. People have revealed themselves and it is bizarre how rare genuinely good people seem to be. And yet, I do believe there’s a well of untapped goodness lurking under the surface just waiting to be released. There has to be; humans are made in God’s image and we’ve not had nearly as many opportunities to pour out good as evil.

I often think of something John of the cross said in The Dark Night of the Soul. He says that when God invades our innermost being and begins to purify us, it pushes all of the impurities in our hearts to the surface – things we didn’t even know were there or thought we had overcome. We see this darkness rising and think we are worse than we’ve ever been. Hopeless, ugly, evil even. And yet that is the point at which God is working most intensely in us under the surface. As his purifying fire expands out from our innermost being it quickly burns off the darkness on the surface to reveal his presence and our goodness.

I work under the theory that what we go through as individual humans must happen with humanity as a whole. I think (hope) we are at that point where the darkness is right on the surface and we believe ourselves to be worse than ever. Or perhaps there’s still more ugliness that needs to come to the surface to be dealt with. Either way, if that’s true, then we’re not far off from the point where the goodness under the surface burns through the darkness to reveal something much purer and more beautiful than we imagined was possible. Chin up, peeps.

PS Just a reminder, that I pretty much predicted we were heading in this direction back in 2014. Let’s just hope I am also right about the end result!

Hope For the Human Race?

Back in 1973, the author EB White received a letter from a man who had written to him saying that he had lost hope in humanity. I’m not entirely sure why he’d chosen EB White to seek counsel from. But yesterday I read White’s response to him and I’m glad he did and I wanted to pass on a portion of his response to y’all. Because losing hope in humanity is a very easy thing to do and sometimes it’s good to get a bit of reassurance:

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

The good we were created with, that lies beneath all the sin and error, is more powerful than we understand. We should never forget that.

You can read the entirity of the letter, along with some background and links to other interesting things over at Brainpickings. 


Deja Vu

My husband tells me that deja vu is your soul checking in with its eternal purpose. It’s a sign that you are right where you are supposed to be.

I have no way of knowing if there is any truth to this idea. But I like to think it is. Simply because when it happens in the middle of difficult times, it gives me a little hope that my life hasn’t gone so far off track.

Sometimes you take hope where you can find it. 🙂

Wrestling Hope

“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: ‘Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.'” Jurgen Moltmann

I’ve wrestled a lot with hope in the last few years. Mostly to try and send it away. “Hope deferred makes a heart sick.” I’ve had enough of being sick. But allowing oneself to venture into hell is a dangerous thing as well. I know – I’ve wandered into hell more than once as of late and couldn’t muster the strength to find my way back out.

I’ve taken to resisting comfort. I’ve fallen for it too many times before. I’ve read the words of scripture and their promises that God will not abandon me or let me fall. My heart has leapt at them only to find that holding onto comfort is like holding onto water as it slips out between your fingers. And God is no where to be seen but my failure is all around me. Better not to let myself try to grab hold any more.

I’ve gazed at the cross with its promise of redemption after suffering. But Jesus’ suffering lasted for a weekend and mine is lasting for years. Jesus’ suffering was probably greater than mine, but it’s not a competition. My neighbor’s broken leg doesn’t make my broken heart hurt any less. I’d say I just want my suffering to end, but the damage has already been done. What difference does it make now?

And then I realize that it is an evil thing I’m fighting with which bids me to remain in hell and refuse comfort as too little too late and far too quickly gone. Continue reading

Mary, The Bondservant Who Waited

Sometimes I think about Mary. When she was told that she would bear a child who would be “Son of the Most High” she agreed by declaring herself a “bond-servant” of God. Shortly after, while visiting her sister-in-law Elizabeth, she spoke what is known as the Magnificat. Her poem or song shows that unlike many of her contemporaries, Mary understood that the purposes of God were social, personal and redemptive – not political. She really got it – the redemption, the care for the least of these, the re-ordering of the world into the Kingdom of God. As Scot McKnight put it “Mary’s vision is the realization of the long-expected hope when God will create the society he promised to his people and through his prophets. This society will marked by justice and peace, by fear of God and holiness and mercy/love.” This was the mission she was signing on for when she agreed to God’s will for her life. Continue reading

Psalm 44: “You have made us a byword among the nations”

We have heard with our ears, O God;

Our fathers have told us

what you did in their days,

in days long ago.

I heard a story the other day about a woman who needed potatoes.  To make potato salad.  And apparently she needed a lot of potatoes.  I probably wasn’t listening very attentively, because I have no idea why she needed to make potato salad – church picnic, family reunion, Paula Deen was coming for a cook-out, I don’t know.  But the woman needed potatoes and had no money for potatoes which was causing her a good deal of stress.  People were depending on her potato salad.  And then she got a phone call from a friend who worked at the weigh-station outside of town: “there’s truck here that’s 150 lbs overweight.  It’s full of potatoes – do you know anyone who might need 150 lbs of potatoes?”  Why, yes, yes she did.  And potatoes fell down from the heavens like manna.

At the completion of this story, another man in the room exclaimed, “isn’t it amazing how God provides?  Over and over I have seen things like that – even in my own family, God provides in the most unexpected ways.”  Several others in the room nodded in agreement.  Not me.  I’m like the psalmist – I have heard of these things, but I haven’t seen them. Continue reading

Seed Catalogue Dreaming

This is not what my yard looks like

I have been resisting the temptation to look for a couple of weeks now, but . . . SEED CATALOGUES ARE HERE!  I love seed catalogues.  I can sit and pour through them over and over again during the short days of winter.  But this leads to dreams of turning my scraggly 2 acre yard of reclaimed brush land into a lush garden oasis.  I develop delusions of having a thriving vegetable garden with well planned rows and patches.  Maybe this will be the year that we try our hand at growing giant pumpkins.  Visions of sunny sunflower patches.  Rose bushes!  A koi pond!  Maybe even cluster of blueberry bushes and a few fruit trees at one corner of the yard.  I can just see my children frolicking about the gardens, stopping to pluck a flower to adorn their curly hair while I sit with a glass of iced tea and soak in all the beauty of it.  If only my yard didn’t actually look like it was waiting for a Chevy on cinder blocks to adorn it.  One day.

For years I started seeds in a spare room under lights each spring.  Each morning one of the first things I would do is go into the room to check and see what had sprouted or put up a new leaf overnight.  Frankly I couldn’t even tell you why, but not much makes me happier – especially when it’s snowing in April – than seeing these little green shoots emerging from the soil.  A few years back I had to leave town for a few days in late spring before I was able to plant out that year’s crop.  The qxh, apparently not understanding that my request that he water them daily while I was gone wasn’t really optional, didn’t.  When I got back about a third of my plants were dead.  I’m normally a pretty tough cookie, but I cried for days.  Continue reading

The Long Walk

Since I was in high school I have suffered from cluster headaches. Fortunately, it has been several years since I have suffered an episode. However, for years I lived with persistent daily bouts of scathing pain for weeks and sometimes months at a time. One of the things I discovered from living with pain was that over time, your ability to cope with fairly minor pain tended to decrease. It was like dealing with excruciating pain took so much physical and mental energy that when more garden variety pain from something as simple as an upset stomach or a stubbed toe came along, you just didn’t have the mental reserves left to deal with it.

I have thought of this fact fairly often over the past couple of months. If you’ve read my blog at all in the last few weeks, you already know that my family has been going through a difficult time and I have not been dealing with it all that well. Which has surprised me. Although our situation is terrible and could potentially get much worse, I’ve handled situations just as bad or worse without diving into the sort of despair and bitterness which I have been struggling with for the last few weeks. I have found myself questioning the very existence of God as well as His faithfulness and His good heart. Which, given all that He has seen me through before and my well established relationship with Him is ridiculous. I think that part of what has thrown me so off balance this time is precisely that I’ve been down this road so many times before, I’ve shown my faithfulness, I’ve trusted in God in the middle of an evil place. So why am I finding myself back on this road again? Haven’t I already gone over this ground and been found faithful? There’s really nothing to be gained by going back over all of this again – can’t we move on now? Just like with my cluster headaches, the fact that I had been through worse before seemed to be making it harder for me to deal with a fresh bout of struggle, not easier.

Fortunately, I have a copy of The Ransomed Heart, which is a collection of readings from John Eldredge’s works in my bathroom and I have frequently thumbed through this book and found some little string to hold onto. One day it was a couple of paragraphs on how easy it is to forget that God is real and faithful. This is why God told the Israelites to remember over and over and had them set up memorials at the sight of significant encounters with God. Even Jesus, when instructing us to practice the Eucharist tells us to do it for remembrance of him, so we won’t forget.

Today, I picked up the book and found this:

One of the most poisonous of all Satan’s whispers is simply, “Things will never change.” That lie kills expectation, trapping our heart forever in the present. To keep desire alive and flourishing, we must renew our vision for what lies ahead. Things will not always be like this . . .Julia Gatta describes impatience, discouragement and despair as the “noonday demons” most apt to beset the seasoned traveler. As the road grows long we grow weary; impatience and discouragement tempt us to forsake the way for some easier path.” (The Sacred Romance)

Isn’t that the truth? I too have found that the lie of “things will never change” can be an ever present spiritual taunt in trying situations. (This seems to be a particular problem in marriage, I think. You have a fight and you think that your spouse’s anger or bad attitude towards you is going to be the new “normal”. But that’s a whole other conversation.)

As I have struggled, especially with how pointless this whole thing seems to be, the thought has popped into my mind, “maybe this isn’t about you. Maybe this is so you can be a demonstration of faith for others around you. One of those ‘so they will see your good works and glorify God’ times.” But the thought seems too arrogant, too presumptuous to actually adopt.  Then today I also read this in The Ransomed Heart:

We run our race, we travel our journey, in the words of Hebrews, before ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ (12:1). When we face a decision to fall back or press on, the whole universe holds its breath – angels, demons, our friends and foes, and the Trinity itself – watching with bated breath to see what we will do. . . The question that lingers from the fall of Satan and the fall of man remains: Will anyone trust the great heart of the Father, or will we shrink back in faithless fear? . . . The great struggles of our heart reveal to the world our true identity: We really are the sons and daughters of God.” (The Sacred Romance)

Hmmm . . . Personally, I keep coming back to the problem of hope. Hope can seem like a fool’s errand. What if it doesn’t work out? What if I end up not as an example of faithfulness in God’s good heart, but as an example of misplaced hope and optimism? Yet like many times before, I find myself repeating the words of Simon Peter to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

So I’ll just keep plugging along and hope that I will be found worthy and that some one, some where will glorify God because of me.