It has been almost a month since my last installment in this ongoing struggle of mine. The journey continues and it has been an interesting one for me.
The struggle also continues, however. I very much want it to be over but what happens in a situation like this is obviously not very much in my control.
What is in my control I have been putting effort into, however. Well, most of it. I wrote last month of trying to tackle this by being a better Roman Catholic. I haven’t held up my end of the bargain as far as attending Mass and I won’t make any more promises about that just now but I will say that I have been praying.
Oh, have I been praying.
I’ve been mixing it up. Some mornings I will pray the Psalms from the Liturgy of the Hours breviary. Others I will begin with a prayer of gratitude. I have even taken up contemplative prayer/meditation for the first time in years, which is most difficult when one is in my spiritual position. I say grace before every meal. And, just to keep it old school, I have been praying the Rosary. I’ve done more of that in the last couple of months than I had in the previous five years.
It would be very nice to report that there has been a lot of progress but I am not really sure how we would quantify that. What I hope to achieve is feeling God’s presence again the way I always have and that hasn’t happened yet.
However, I can honestly say that I am in a very different place in this struggle than I was a month ago and there are couple of things that have helped make that happen.
I finally made it through “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross. The book is a bit intense, and I’ll probably have to keep re-reading entire sections to truly absorb as much as I need to from it. One line did leap out at and stick with me though: “In darkness and secure.”
What I gleaned from the commentary I read is that the time of profound darkness for the soul is actually the result of God protecting it. He is keeping the soul sheltered from distraction and desires that keep it from seeking Him. An unfortunate byproduct of this is that the soul feels far away from God. The commentary said that if the soul knew just how secure it was and how much attention it was getting from God while feeling so distant it would embrace the journey.
I pondered that but didn’t feel better right away. The idea stuck with me though. Some of the anxious feeling I’d had while praying diminished. I decided that if I couldn’t feel God’s presence at the moment, I could at least intellectually entertain the idea that I might be walking “in darkness and secure.”
It was calming down a bit that helped me pray more. I began to remove some distractions that I thought might be getting in the way of spiritual progress. I didn’t try to remove them all at once, because experience has taught me that approach can become a distraction in itself.
As I gave myself more time for spiritual reading and better circumstances for prayer, I felt less hopeless than I had in months. It was small progress, but it was the first real progress. Everything to that point felt like just so much flailing.
The other thing that happened was the introduction of “coincidence” to my life. That’s in quotation marks because pre-faith crisis I was fond of saying: “You can believe in coincidence or you can believe in God. I don’t believe in coincidence.”
As I mentioned in the first column, my friends have been extraordinary through all of my travails. My Los Angeles friends and I don’t live near each other, so it’s not like we’re hanging out.
I had withdrawn a bit after my daughter went back to New York for school. I was sullen and going through a couple of ridiculously stressful periods. As each reached its fever pitch of stress, a friend made an unplanned visit that changed my entire outlook. One lives in the Valley, and we see each other maybe every couple of months.
The other lives in Las Vegas, and we haven’t seen each other in about three years.
That got me thinking about coincidence. If I really didn’t believe in it before, does my current situation mean I suddenly do? Is there something left in me that would make me believe it’s God working if it keeps happening just when I need it?
I still don’t know, but it did make me feel as if I may have taken another baby step.
I won’t lie, this is rough and I am still frightened it won’t work out. I do, however, have more to ponder.
More to pray about.