Have you been in a season of great darkness, of suffering? Have you lost all sense of hope and faith?
This year for me has been one of shock, great challenges, bleak darkness and overwhelming sorrow. In fact the four words that would use to describe the last four months would be: “I have no words”.
Today I started to consider the two words hope and faith. What do they even mean? Have I lost all hope? Have I lost my faith?
What is Hope?
This was to be the title of this post. As I stared at a blank page I searched my soul to remember what it was that I had hoped for or in? In the face of great suffering and chaos hope is difficult to grasp. I pulled out some of my comfort books. Richard Rohrs Hope against Darkness and The Naked Now and John O’ Donohues Eternal Echoes. As I did and I zeroed in on the word darkness and unexpectadly stumbled into an Ah Haaa moment.
John O’ Donohue wrote these words that helped to reset my compass in the darkness.
“There is no life that is not called at some time to walk through the bleak valley of suffering. This is a path without hope, without shelter and without light. When suffering comes into your life it brings great loneliness and isolation”
Of course…. when things are dark you cannot see. No wonder I could not see hope or light. I was siting with my old friend darkness.
Suffering, when it comes, unhinges and dislocates us. Disorientated it takes a while to realise what is happening. “Suffering is the arrival of darkness from an angle you never expected” (O Donohue Eternal Echoes). It is a great shock that numbs us for many weeks and months. Gradually our poor soul begins to awaken from the shock to try and make sense of what is happening and when it does it looks around and can’t figure out why it cannot see. Why is everything so dark and bleak? Because the light has gone and we are sitting alone again with our friend darkness.
“When suffering comes the darkness has arrived. The light is out. Even your faith falls away. When you are at the heart of great pain, you enter a land of sheer desolation” (O’Donohue Eternal Echoes).
I call darkness our friend because it is one of our closest companions. Darkness is part of the natural order of life and soul. Just as the sun, moon and stars have their part to play in the cosmos, so does light and darkness have its part to play in bearing life and transformation both in the natural and in the spiritual.
Although we live and work in the light, we were conceived and shaped in darkness. You cannot grow unless you return to darkness.
Imagine the shock of seeds, born and raised in the sun to be suddenly plunged into utter darkness and smothered by clay and damp soil. “The seed has no defence, it must give way, abandoning itself to the new weave of life that will thread forth from its own dissolving” (O’Donohue Eternal Echoes).
New life and growth will eventually burst through the soil. Transformed into a new plant or tree. Its roots plunging down deep into the darkness, its branches reaching up to the light. This is the cycle of life and growth and transformation.
It is here that I find my hope.
What is it that I hope in?
I have hope in the fact that out of the darkest of nights and in the deepest of valleys, light and life eventually come. I cannot see at the moment but that is as it should be. The darkness does not last forever but it is necessary. The darkness may have come as a shock and from an angle that I never expected, but it has come to weave the magic of life and transformation in me so that what once would have been seen as incomprehensible suffering, will one day be seen as new life. A tree that will one day bring shelter and fruit to others who are suffering.
While you are cowering in a dark valley it is impossible to understand what is happening to you. You have to trust the darkness and wait. Light is a gift that suffering leaves behind. Out of the cold hard winter ground a new springtime of possibilities begin to arise.
All great spirituality comes through letting go. All transformation comes through the pathways of love and suffering. The most amazing thing about Jesus is that he taught us that God and change are to be found in mess, darkness, weakness, imperfection and disorder.
Today I feel joy begin to emerge as I realise that I still have faith in wisdom, truth, mystery and paradox. I have hope in darkness, transformation and life. I can hope in the mysteries of the seasons. That there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. Some of us it seems are more familiar with the darkness. It is not my job to wonder and worry about this. It is my job to be patient and to trust that the darkness is part of the process of life and that it never lasts forever.
When we are called to stand in places of pain may we be blessed by seasons of light.