Over the years I’ve learned to not turn away from dark nights and to accept the journey inward as a journey towards God. By entering fully into them is to come out the other side sooner. The intense darkness of some of those episodes can, at times, push me over the edge of human limits and leave me flat out in despair.
To despair, according to the Catechism (#2019), is to lose hope and turn your back on God…and a sin. Not that I intentionally plan to turn away from God, its just when mentally muddled it happens. The Sacrament of Reconciliation always brings release and relief. Avoiding the same confessor and remaining behind the screen in the confessional offers—I believe—a fuller sense of God in the moment. It takes the personal element away and leaves the spiritual to resonate.
Off I went a few weeks ago for what I expected to be the usual every-other-week cleansing. It became much more…about 30 minutes more. (And how did the priest know there was no one waiting after me?) Father wanted some answers, and he took his time looking for them.
He appreciated my anchoress tendencies and disciplined life of prayer. But in that confessional, and under God’s watch, the priest said I was to leave my rooms. I nearly gasped at that—leave the silence of my upstairs hermitage!? He also suggested (insisted?) that I find a spiritual director, specifically a Roman Catholic priest loyal to the Magisterium—an odd thing to say but I understood his warning.
What Father said next was a greater challenge than finding a priest with free time. He said I was to “…learn another way to love beyond the silence of prayer.” That it was necessary for me to go and serve people in a way compatible with my hermitic nature, and after having served return to my rooms. I was to offer love and carry back the day’s offerings as the root for prayer.
Since that Saturday afternoon the Holy Spirit has stepped up the challenge. A priest who I didn’t know contacted me to be an intercessor. I’m baffled how he found me, and why. I had commented to another priest during lunch the impossibility of finding a spiritual director among his brothers. A few days later he called with the phone number of a priest long retired from, among other things, spiritual direction of priests, who was willing to meet with me.
After Adoration last week I felt an insistence to stop at a care facility for women. The meeting with the administrator ended with my being dumbfounded. Nearly all of the forty-five residents were Christian, more than half of them Catholics. They did not have anyone ministering to them—no pastors, priests, or sisters. I shared with her that I was not trained in any ministry and all I could do in the company of these ladies was to pray. And at that she nearly cried with relief for that was exactly what she had prayed for.
There is a shifting taking place, a wave forming from the depths. It is as unsettling as when in 2009 I left behind the familiar life as a gardener to learn to write. Terrified would be the least of words to describe how I felt about picking up a pen instead of a trowel. The only option then, as is now, was to trust that God had a better plan beyond my imagining.
Prayer is my default in life. It is spiritual air, often a quick breath in a moment of need. The Holy Spirit is asking that I—we—take a deeper breath instead of a pant. And maybe share the breath of God with those who stand in wait for their last.
Pray for me, will you? I have no idea where I’m going, but I’m in the boat, sail up.