Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You Can't Avoid the Dark Night By Redefinition

I went to see my Spiritual Director today. He had some cold hard truths to tell me about where I am in my current spiritual path.

For a while now I have been struggling with a new and for lack of a better term mystifying (interesting coming from someone who has such a fascination with mystics) prayer life. Me, the person who loves words, has been unable to pray with words or receive answer to prayer in words. What I do get when I pray is either great silence, or images. Neither causes me great distress, but neither gives me comfort, because I have no idea what to do with these images.

I am what you might call an idea person. Give me a topic and a sufficient amount of time and I can come up or brainstorm an entire notebook of ideas about that topic, so when I first started getting images in prayer I would immediately go into brainstorm mode and come up with 99 interpretations for what the image might mean. With no one to guide my mind's wandering or to help me sift through the processing (or so I thought) I was left confused most of the time until after the fact when suddenly I could see in hindsight how the image fit into what was going on in my life.

I could feel myself slipping into a lost state, and knew that God was trying to stretch me by this new form of communication in prayer, but somehow I was the one who wasn't getting the message; I was the imperfect receptacle. I kept thinking to myself, If I know that God wants to stretch me, and I know that it has something to do with the images, can I avoid the pain and loneliness of the Dark Night?

It was at this point that my wise Spiritual Director stopped me. "Don't you see," he said to me "that you are already in the dark night, just because you understand what it looks like and want to call it something else doesn't change the fact that your prayer is no longer consoling and life giving, but confused and causing you great pain."

That stopped me short. Here was that amazing mirror that good Spiritual Directors use. He held it up in front of me and helped me to see myself exactly as I am. No matter how rationally I think about where I have been, and where I need to go, there is no denying the pain and loneliness and confusion of where I am at this moment. No matter how many books I try to read on prayer or dreams or divine imagery I can't deny that where I am is in the Darkness.

What I do know is that what used to work for me doesn't any longer. What I need to do is learn to be comfortable where I am; with the images. If there is some meaning that is supposed to be attached to an image, it will come, if not, it isn't my job to try so hard to find it.

Teresa of Avila uses the imagery of prayer as water. You go to the well, and draw water from the well using a bucket. It is labor intensive, but it works. Eventually the well runs dry because God wants you to move to a different kind of prayer.

In the second form of prayer your fields are irrigated by a stream that runs near it, it is much easier to get the water this way, much less labor intensive.

God eventually sends rain onto the fields, and all you have to do for that kind of prayer is be present, and the water falls upon you, no movement on your part is necessary at all in this form of prayer.

And finally there is the water in the stream or ocean that surrounds you; this form of prayer doesn't just touch you, it engulfs you. You can fight against the water or you can rest in it, allowing your own buoyancy to keep you afloat and upright.

My Spiritual Director thinks there might be one more invitation. If God is the ocean. Then perhaps some of us are called to stop just floating, and to learn to totally let go, let God and be open to the total metamorphosis into an ocean dwelling creature who can be content to be totally submerged always and no longer need to breath air. Is that where I am in my prayer life, am I still fighting to breathe air and God is asking me to let go (die to self) and let God become even my breathing apparatus, so that I am totally engulfed in God alone? Am I being called to let my entire life "be prayer"?

This was what my Spiritual Director left me to ponder. This is my dark night, learning to totally die to self, learning how to breathe God alone, so that my life can be prayer. It is a staggeringly humbling thought.

Could it happen?


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