My work group recently began reading some of the scripture passages from the Daily Office Lectionary each morning as part of a group prayer time. Even though we do not follow the Morning Prayer service (we just do the scripture readings and offer prayer for those in our lives who are in need), this practice gradually led to me resuming the practice of doing the Evening Prayer service on my own each night and now to doing full Morning Prayer on weekend mornings.
As I’ve begun this latest journey through the dark lands, I’ve been struck by how often the liturgy of the Evening Prayer service talks about light and darkness. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising since it is intended to be read during the hours when day shifts into night, but I had not really noticed this language before now.
“Depression is something that makes you lose your sight.” ~Michael Schenker
Dark night. Black cloud. Thick fog. Darkness. Shadowlands. Blackness. Black sun.
All of these common ways of describing depressing describe conditions in which we can’t see very well. Our sight is dimmed in darkness, fog, and shadows. Familiar objects take on distorted appearances. Color is washed out. We can’t see where we’re going, and we can’t even see our current surroundings with any clarity. Everything appears gray and misshapen.
“You have to confront the very parts of yourself that you fear most to find what you have been looking for, because the mechanism that drives you to conceal your darkness is the same mechanism that has you hide your light. What you’ve been hiding from can actually give you what you’ve been trying hard to achieve.” ~Debbie Ford
I’ve spent most of my life projecting my shadow elsewhere so that I could avoid looking at the darkness that I carry within. I was so afraid that if I came face to face with my own darkness, it would destroy me. But as Debbie Ford says above, that also meant hiding my light because the light is what highlights the shadows. Light draws attention to me and makes it more likely that others might see those shadows too.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ~Mary Oliver
I’ve always loved this quote because it’s taken me years to understand that the darkness in my own life is a gift. It often does not feel that way at the time, but it is a gift nevertheless. And recognizing it as such in the moment, even when I can’t see it, makes the darkness easier to bear.
“Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” ~Ecclesiastes 7:3-4
We were discussing Biblical Wisdom Literature today in class, which includes the book of Ecclesiastes. In general, this book conveys a rather disillusioned and pessimistic view of the meaning of life, or the lack thereof. It was obvious from the class discussion that many people find this book disturbing, and I have my moments when I’d agree.
I also have plenty of times when I’m grateful for its inclusion in the canon because I find it comforting.
I have a close relative who had a relatively brief out-of-body experience as a child when she died and was resuscitated. She generally prefers not to talk about this experience and would rather people not know of it, but she did tell me the story once. I’ve never forgotten it, but it only served to whet my curiosity to know more. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the reports of people’s experiences like this.
There was a recent one published in Newsweek by a neurosurgeon who had always been skeptical of the reality of life-after-death experiences. In enjoyed reading his account with his neurological understanding of what was happening to him woven into the story, but there was one particular part of the story that particularly caught my attention.
“Although our desire to grow is genuine and pure, it often gets mixed with lesser motivations, including the wish to be loved, the desire to belong, the need to fill our internal emptiness, the belief that the spiritual path will remove our suffering and spiritual ambition, the wish to be special, to be better than, to be ‘the one.'” ~Mariana Caplan, PhD (from 10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases)
While I know I still have my blind spots, I am quite self-aware—in fact, often much more self-aware than I let on—and I find this to be as much a curse as a blessing. Although the quote above is specifically talking about our mixed motivations in our pursuit of spirituality, I am always aware of a similar level of mixed motivations taking place in everything I do.
My mood generally tends to be relatively stable. I have my ups and downs, but the gap between the highs and lows (as least as far as is obvious to others) is generally fairly narrow. When I do hit a low point, it’s almost always of a more depressive nature; I become even quieter than usual and just overall blue and pessimistic.
I very seldom become truly angry. When I do, it is in response to a specific situation or event, and it usually burns itself out fairly quickly. I confess that I do complain rather more often than that but true anger is rare.
“If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then—for me, anyway—a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new ones aren’t yet operational. There’s been a death of sorts, but without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.” ~Mary Karr (from Lit: A Memoir)
This is one of the most accurate and concise descriptions of the process I have been going through for the last many months. It has at times puzzled me (and I’m sure those around me) to see my life’s circumstances to become so much better in so many ways, and yet I have continued to struggle even after things were improving. This quote explains better than I ever could why I was unable to immediately respond to improved circumstances with an improvement in my attitude and emotional state.
I spent more time in tears this last weekend than I have in quite some time. I’m realizing that there are layers to some wounds that require coming back to them time and again to continue the healing process on ever deeper layers. Each visit peels away another layer of the wound leaving a smaller and smaller wound underneath with every pass. With each successive layer, the healing process shifts and changes in what is needed and what resources I have to effect that healing.