Saturday, November 27, 2010

Darkness II

Indeed, it has been quite a while since I have posted on this site. It is not for lack of time (although I have had relatively little). It is not for lack of subject matter, interest, or awareness that time was passing without posting. No, it was for a very different reason, a first experience for me. It was for lack of a sense of that spirituality that underpins the posts on this blog.

For more than three weeks, until a few days ago, I have been experiencing what St. John of the Cross referred to as the dark night of the soul. Actually, and fortunately, I had a foretaste of this several years ago not long after my conversion. (That story, in detail, I shared earlier in this post: see here.)

The foretaste came when my friend, Tom, went through a dark night, and I ended up in more than 20 hours of prayer with and/or for him. At one point, I made the stupid request to feel what he was feeling in order to understand him better. That request was granted, thankfully, only briefly for part of an evening, during which I begged to be released from my request and the next morning, when all was back to normal, I begged never to go through that experience.

That latter request, I guess, God considered not in my best interest because that is precisely what I have just gone through and not for two weeks, like Tom, but for three weeks. What kept me going was knowing that Mother Theresa had gone through a dark night for YEARS. Why? That is a question that only God can answer.

Until this period, God had been spoiling me, to use the words of one of my Sufi friends. God has never let me down, never failed to answer a prayer, always filled my life with miracles, and always, always let me feel a Divine Presence wherever I happened to be if I just was still a bit and even, often, if I was not. For me, there were two parts to religion: spirituality and faith. A few people live with spirituality; many live with faith. I always thought that if I were required to live by faith alone, I would not be able to do it.

And now, here I was: no sense of God's presence for day after day. It would have been easy to think that all my previous experience with the Presence of God had been imagined. That's the way our human minds work at times. The past is gone, the present is where we live, the future we look forward to if we don't like the present. I realized somewhere in the early part of this experience that I really had a choice. I could choose to believe in spite of the absence of any spiritual sensations. I guess that is what faith is: choosing to believe.

Interestingly, during this period I came back into contact with Fr. Terry, who had been my de facto spiritual advisor but who had been transferred to another town more than an hour away last February. We began an old-fashioned letter-writing correspondence, and since we began with reminiscing, some of the spiritual experiences that I had had earlier but not shared served as the initial content. In writing of these things, I reinforced my choice to believe. I wonder if God handed me this cane for leaning on and for feeling my way through the dark period, for strengthening my walk in darkness, depending on God's support even though I could not sense that Divine Presence that I had come to, well, honestly speaking, take for granted.

I now understand much better what St. John of the Cross meant when he said that the dark night is a positive thing, an opportunity to grow spiritually, a cleansing and purification. Now that the Presence is palpably back in my life, I don't think I will ever again take it for granted. More than that, though, I know that I do have faith, and if it seems weak, I can choose to believe and to ask God to increase my faith, and God will do it.

As much as I do not want to go through another dark night, I am now grateful to God that I was gifted with it. Now, too, I will not fear another dark night should God want to so gift me again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am taking the day off from blogging to attend morning Mass and then help out all afternoon at Old Mission's community dinner -- open to all, regardless of SES or church affiliation. I will also take some time during the day and evening to drop in to followers' blogs with Thanksgiving greetings.

Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 1, 2010


On many occasions, I have felt that God was reaching out to me through music. I am not talking so much about the rhythm or sound of the music although certainly those aspects, depending upon what they are, can lift the soul or plunge emotions into depression as many celebratory hymns, upbeat rhythms of country music, and soulful melodies of blues can attest. I am talking about the words of the music, words that speak unexpectedly to a specific issue or question. I wonder if others have had this experience or sensation, as well. Let me give you just a couple of examples.

The first example I mentioned in an earlier post in which I seemed to be tasked to take on Goliath. The morning before a difficult meeting with Goliath and others, I was concerned about having to reveal having received related locutions. For some reason that morning, the choir director gave us the wrong page number, and we all ending up singing "Be not afraid, I go before you always."

The second example occurred before I headed off to Afghanistan. The original plan, later nixed by GEN Petraeus, was to send me to some villages where my safety could not be guaranteed. While I stepped up to the assignment publicly, publicly I fretted about the possible consequences until, again at a Mass, while I was fretting, the song that had been selected for the congregation to sing was "Shepherd me, oh God, beyond my fears, from death unto life." Although it was written for a different purpose, it certainly was apropos for where I was going. Well, I did not hear "don't go," but that was later taken care of by the good general, and I ended up going to places that were somewhat safer although not completely safe. Still, I felt no fear during any time that I was there. In fact, the only emotion I did feel was sadness: the people of Afghanistan have so little and we have so much still to do to help them achieve even a modest level of comfort and security. I am ready to go back in a few months to help in the way that I can: by helping build cultural bridges. This time I don't need any encouragement or reassurance.

I often play the piano for our prayer group so that we can start out our meetings with music. I am not the only one that music draws to God. Music is clearly one of God's languages.