Waiting in Darkness

Light-Shines

As the darkest day of the year approaches, I’m finding hope in the darkness.

My own darkness, that is.

I’ve been silent because it’s been hard to put words on a page. Hard to express what I’ve been experiencing.

A couple of months ago I entered a darkness, a place where I felt hopelessly negative and stuck. And it was painful.

Despite the pain, I recognized it as an invitation from Spirit. Draw near. Delve deeper. There’s more to discover. More that hinders you from fully realizing all that you are in Me.

So, I reached out for help.

I’ve no idea where this will take me, but I’m willing to go deeper. I’m willing because I believe my faithfulness in saying yes to this invitation will allow the manifestation of what longs to be born in me.

“The birth of the Word in the soul,” as my Living School teacher Jim Finley puts it. Through our fidelity to these yeses, to what shows up unexpectedly in our lives, Christ is incarnate in the world, he says.

But, for now, I sit in the Advent season of expectant darkness.

Rumi darkness candle
I sit in the silence and wait. I wait because there is nowhere else to go. I wait with hopefulness, with the courage and trust it takes to say yes. To accept what is before me. And I wait with an awareness that infinite Love is loving me in this place. And a recognition that this, too, is part of my spiritual journey.

I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. Each of us has our own moments of waiting in darkness. Sometimes it’s dealing with a chronic illness. Emotional pain. An unexpected medical diagnosis. The death of a loved one. Separation from one’s children.

Here at the border we’ve been getting more asylum seekers lately. We’re especially seeing an increase in refugees from African countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, and Cameroon, where violence has caused many to flee. I’ve begun visiting a few of these young men detained in the El Paso detention facility while they await their court date. They are not much older than my own son. Every one of them has had life-threatening experiences to get here. And every one of them has been separated from their families. If they are sent back, they will be killed.

I wonder how they remain hopeful. How they say yes to the darkness.

One young man I visit tells me his mother knows nothing about where he is. She doesn’t know if he’s safe, or even alive. I think of what that must be like for her – waiting for news. Wondering and worrying. Is she able to say yes to this darkness? To accept this part of her journey? welcoming door

 

I think of Finley’s words: “… your ongoing yes is the incarnation.”

And then I recall a very young woman so many years ago. Her willingness to say yes with courage and trust to what presented itself in the silent darkness led to the incarnation. The birth of Christ in the world.

In the silent darkness of the night, no matter how dark, no matter how uncertain, God speaks the Word in the soul.

Like Mary, fidelity to that yes is my journey, too. It is changing my life.

Life’s water flows from darkness.
Search the darkness, don’t run from it.
Night travelers are full of light,
and you are, too; don’t leave this companionship.
-Rumi

 

 

 

 

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Wake Up! Don’t Go Back to Sleep

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Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

(Rumi) 

It hasn’t escaped me — the parallel between what’s happening in my life and this current season of Advent. Both are marked by expectant waiting and preparation. Of hope and anticipation in the darkness.

But my experience seems to be lasting a lot longer than one season!

Since my last post, I’ve made it back to El Paso. With a writing assignment waiting for me at the Columban Missions’ border ministry, I didn’t want to “wait it out” any longer at my cousin’s until housing for volunteers became available. So, I decided to make a couple of calls. An El Paso friend took me in for two nights, and then I moved back temporarily with the School Sisters of St. Francis, where I lived when I started this journey at the beginning of the year. It may sound funny, but I’ve slept in so many places over these past several months, it’s been hard to keep track.

Guess it’s not unusual I’d be feeling displaced, uprooted, unsettled. Yet again.

And I’d not anticipated the sadness I’d feel upon leaving Incarnate Word Missionaries and the deep connections I’ve made there. Sometimes I think I’m too old for all this uprooting and moving around. This lack of routine and daily schedules. This inability to anticipate what’s ahead on the path. Even in the slightest next step. It requires a keen watchfulness. An attentiveness to the clues — signs visible only to my spiritual senses.
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Seeing as it’s Advent, I was reflecting on another journey: the journey of a couple who, many years ago, also found themselves uprooted, displaced, and wandering. The young wife, pregnant with her first child, traveling away from home, her mother, her midwife, all that was familiar, was guided only by her new husband and the hope of a promise, which, to tell the truth, hadn’t been laid out very clearly. All she knew was her willingness to respond to a call she didn’t fully understand.

That’s really the metaphor for Mary’s life, isn’t it? How one’s willingness to say yes to the unknown, to something that doesn’t make sense in a logistical, material world, gives birth to something well beyond our expectations? Something that can only be envisioned in the imagination. The place where Spirit is experienced, and born.

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Still…I think Mary must have been at least a little scared and unsure. Did she question her decision? Did she wonder what she had said yes to?

I know I often have.

Franciscan Richard Rohr’s reflections this week have been on “Presence.” He’s been reminding me exactly what I need to be aware of — the Presence in this moment I am living. Not in the moment I am waiting for around the next bend when everything, hopefully, will become clearer.

“The key to all spirituality,” Rohr writes, is to be conscious, to be awake, to be alert, to be alive.”

To know that I have everything I need in this moment.

I had one of those “a-ha” awakening moments a few weeks ago while staying at Alison’s house in the suburbs of San Antonio — yet another temporary abode. One morning, as I searched among my half-unpacked belongings for something to wear, feeling frustrated over the constant moving and trying to find a place to land, I said aloud, “This can’t be my life!”

It felt so crazy.

But then I paused. And a new thought slipped right in.

“But this is my life! And it’s OK! It’s perfectly fine just as it is. I don’t need to wait for it to be anything different. I’m serving my purpose right where I am.”

Just for a moment I felt as though I had awakened. It’s not that I won’t go back to sleep. I need reminders. Be alert! Stay awake! Be present to your own life!

And know that it is good, just as it is, however it shows up. Because that’s where God is.

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Sure, I’d like to have more clarity about where I’m going. Assurance that I’m making the right decisions. But even more, I want a deeper awareness of this abiding Presence. An awareness of this Love guiding all my choices.

Rohr says, “This is what it means to be awake: to be constantly willing to say that God could even be coming to me in this! Even in this!”

Even in the things I don’t like or don’t understand. Even in what I would prefer to change. Or at least be able to anticipate.

Like Mary, can I recognize and hope in the Presence that abides in me? In the here and now?  As I wonder and I wait?

Pieces of My Heart

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David would have been 65 today. There was a time I could not have imagined he wouldn’t make it to 65. The fact he didn’t even live to see 60 seems outrageous. Or at least it did.

Now I wonder, what does age mean? And what are years? They all meld together to create this wonderful expression of our short lives on this earth. Because we really are here so briefly. But if we live with our hearts open, it’s an amazing life. And who we are lives on through the hearts of others. That may seem like a worn-out phrase, but I can vouch for it. Love, in some mysterious way, connects two beings beyond the threshold where two worlds meet.

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I know that I carry David in my heart. Just as vividly and lovingly as I did while he was alive. And sometimes, just as I did when he was alive, I take for granted the incredible support and influence he has had on my life. Yet the effects live on.

He was the first to recognize my inner strength and courageous spirit. He showed me my good qualities and, thankfully, my faults and weaknesses, too. I changed and grew because of our relationship. Through David I experienced God’s unconditional love. And that’s enabled me to risk leaping into the unknown, to leave behind my home, and to take others into my heart along the way.

But in the intimacy of living with an open heart lies another risk — the risk of feeling the sadness of the heart connections I’ve left behind. It seems I’m leaving pieces of my heart everywhere these days. But, just as I leave pieces of my heart behind, I take other pieces with me.  I’m learning the language of the open heart on this journey. My heart opens wider with each lesson.

It happened in San Antonio.

Especially that short month I spent serving Women’s Global Connection. Transitioning to WGC proved to be a grace-filled decision. A decision that brought me closer to what I came here seeking and that blessed me in so many ways. Located on the extensive campus of the University of Incarnate Word and The Village, a retirement home for many of the Sisters, WGC exposed me to the larger Incarnate Word community. To deeper connections with some of the Sisters and with the WGC staff so committed to its sustainable projects in Tanzania, Zambia, and, my special favorite, Peru. To the peaceful, prayerful oasis of the campus chapels. And to an awareness that “everything is a spiritual experience,” as my new friend Sr. Mary T. taught me.

When I packed up and headed north on I-35 last Tuesday night to spend Thanksgiving with my cousin Joyce near Austin, I was already missing these heart connections. People like Sylvia, Sr. Brigid, Sr. Mary T., Sr. Carmelita, Sr. Alice, Tere and Terrie, and many others who found their way into my heart and made my brief time with Incarnate Word Missionaries so special.

Although I expected to be at Joyce’s only a few days before heading on to El Paso, that changed when I got some surprising news. The house for volunteers where I’d planned to live won’t be available until December 15.

Once again I find myself waiting in this “in-between” place. My mind scrambles to come up with ideas for where to live in the interim. I start to feel anxious. So, I do what I know I need to do.

I go off by myself to be quiet and listen for guidance.

In the stillness I feel the loneliness of not having a place to settle. I’m tired of traveling with my belongings packed in my Subaru. I feel like a homeless child, wandering and wondering where she belongs. I question. I pray. I wait.

A book lying on my bed attracts my attention: Legacy of the Heart, by Wayne Muller — a gift from Sr. Brigid. It opens to this:

“…the journey to our new home need not always lead to a separate country or place. Sometimes it leads us to a still, small voice within our souls, a place of belonging as sure and quiet as our very breath…

Belonging begins in that deep, quiet place where our spirit lives within us. ‘Take sanctuary in me,’ says the voice of God. Do not depend on circumstances to create or sustain your place of belonging, but rather make your home in the unchanging breath of the spirit that lives within. Claim your home, claim your belonging with each breath.”

A stronger, and higher, part of me knows this truth. Home doesn’t rely on physical space. My true home lives within me. In quiet moments, I have touched that place. A place where Love connects all the heart’s pieces.

And then I know with certainty that I can never truly be separated from anyone or anything that I have ever loved. No matter where I find myself.

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A special card from Sylvia