Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lunar Spirituality: Embracing Darkness

For several months, I have planted myself in a rich, dark, earthy soil of acceptance and becoming. I have seen myself take root, awakened by the richness of wisdom and daring from authors like Sue Monk Kidd, Barbara Taylor Brown and Anne Lammot. I have felt the rising of, at first fragile starts, gaining strength and height as I grow out into the world, embracing my place in it.

Much of the growth has come at the hand of this revelation: Darkness is not evil. And inherent in that, mystery and questioning and uncertainty, too, are not evil. What is more, darkness and all it’s allies, are beautiful and holy. You should know, I do not use those adjective lightly. I have come to believe in the deepest parts of my being that the greatest challenges of our lives are likely, too, the most holy. That the deep questioning and the endless searching out of Mystery is, at it’s core, a truly holy act. And that weeping and wandering and leaving the staleness of the past may in fact be exactly what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

What greater poverty of spirit is there than to admit, “I’m not sure”? What greater humility and breaking-open - in the midst of loss and tragedy and injustice and sickness - is there, than to voice the unknown and walk bravely into the darkness? To lay one’s soul bare to the mysteries of the world? To stay true to your own heart, despite convention, despite criticism? 

In my own spiritual journey, I ran to the darkness out of necessity. I ran from the rigidity and the staleness and the certainty and the suffocation of my previous way of living and believing. In the wake of deep personal sadness and loss, questions rose from my gut and mystery enclosed me. And I allowed them to. I gave my soul space to not know, space to sit in sadness or confusion, room to thrash about and question and not accept all the petty, pretty answers that were being thrown at me. I let my heart be - timid, unsure, free. And as a result, I found myself in the midst of darkness way before I knew it was a place of beauty or holiness.

Initially, I hated the darkness. I wanted the light, the answers, the confidence of knowing what came next. The inclusion. The perceived control. I wanted to belong, I wanted familiarity and clarity. And yet, I could never will myself to swallow all the questions or suffocate all the becoming that was leading me away from those systems. As much as I mourned the loss of that former self, and sometimes ran from my new reality, I count it as one of the greatest blessings in my life that I honored my soul enough to let her wander, and ask, and become her own. I was choosing to be in the darkness, desperate for freedom. And still - it was hard. And lonely. And frustratingly dark. 

The first few years of my journey into the dark were very much like the first few months of a baby’s life outside the womb. For those of us who have experienced newborns, it’s easy to observe that in many ways these tiny creatures seem completely underprepared for life on the outside. Some refer to these post-birth months as the “fourth trimester”. Baby's virgin digestive system struggles to process mother’s milk, leading to gas and belly aches and all-night wailing. Baby is incapable of self-soothing and so, sleeps in tiny increments at all hours of the day. Baby is completely dependent, has an assortment of bizarre bodily fluids and occasionally one is so furious about their new environment, they are labeled “colicky”. From my personal experience with such a baby, colicky seems to means, “Put me back in the f-in womb or I’m going to make your life a living hell.” Unfortunately, since the logistics of putting the baby back into the womb are SLIGHTLY less conceivable than dealing with the turmoil of a baby that cries hysterically for several hours a day, we grit and bear it. And eventually, {Thank God!} we emerge from the darkness and sleeplessness and hellishness of those first months.

In my own spiritual journey, I experienced a "fourth trimester”, which included all the wailing and inconsolability of a colicky newborn. In many ways, for months, even years, I was simply angry and wanted out of my circumstances. I wanted to be miraculously transported to days of less knowing, less asking, back to days of blissful certainty and belonging. And like a newborn, I spent much of my time focused on the basics of survival: eat, sleep, poop, repeat. I tried to numb the pain with the busyness of life, the simple logistics of working, eating, paying the bills and cleaning. I often sought out the “here and now”, tried to let the questions and the pain wane into the background of my soul. I willed myself to believe the myth that time will heal, all the while hating the darkness I found myself in. 

When I finally awoke to the fact that time was not working as the cure I had expected it to be, I was fortunate in my awakening to encounter voices of hope and encouragement and truth. I was fortunate to stumble across others who had experienced life and loss and lived to write about it. I was fortunate to learn that the darkness could in fact be from God, could in fact be beauty, holy. 

Author Barbara Brown Taylor describes her own spiritual “fourth trimester”, her own struggle in the darkness and eventual embracing of it. Every line feels as though it came straight from my soul, so much so that I struggled to narrow which selection of paragraphs to include here. Brown captures the heart of my and many others' struggles, the pain of well-intentioned spiritual communities, and the journey to find purpose outside the walls of the "Light”. She begins by introducing the idea of our obsession with labeling the dark “bad" and the light “good”. Brown writes:

“At the theological level, however, this language creates all sorts of problems. It divides every day in two, pitting the light part against the dark part.….to embrace that teaching and others like it at face value can result in a kind of spirituality that deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention. I call it “full solar spirituality” since it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith. You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationships, and unwavering in faith. This sounds like heaven on earth. Who would not like to dwell in God’s light 24/7?

   If you have ever belonged to such a community, however, you may have discovered that the trouble starts when darkness falls on your life, which can happen in any number of unsurprising ways: you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, your child acts out in some attention-getting way, you pray hard for something that does not happen, you begin to doubt some of the things you have been taught about what the Bible says. The first time you speak of these things in a full solar church, you can usually get a hearing. Continue to speak of them and you may be reminded that God will not let you be tested beyond your strength. All that is required of you is to have faith. If you still do not get the message, sooner or later it will be made explicit for you: the darkness is your own fault, because you do not have enough faith. 

   Having been on the receiving end of this verdict more than once, I do not think it is as mean as it sounds. The people who said it seemed genuinely to care about me. They had honestly offered me the best they had. Since their sunny spirituality had not given them the skills for operating in the dark, I had simply exhausted their resources. They could not enter the dark without putting their own faith at risk, so they did the best they could. They stood where I could still hear them and begged me to come back into the light. 

   If I could have, I would have. There are days when I would give anything to share their vision of the world and their ability to navigate it safely but my spiritual gifts do not seem to include the gift of solar spirituality. Instead, I have been given the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season….after I stopped thinking that all these fluctuations meant something was wrong with me, a great curiosity opened up: what would my life look like if I trusted this rhythm instead of opposing it?" 

Today, so many years removed from that "full solar spirituality" I once strived and struggled to live within, I find myself awakening to a new kind of faith, a hope in the darkness. I find that I, too, seem to have the gift of lunar spirituality and am learning to embrace the waxing and waning of my soul's seasons, the questions, the darkness and all the mystery life holds. I am finding meaning, truth, even God, here in the moonlight. 

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  1. Thanks for sharing.
    The scriptures are so full of men and women experiencing "dark nights of the soul"in their relationship with God. They are somehow hidden (although everywhere) until we experience it ourselves and then can say, wow I'm not alone.

  2. Yes, it's been both a heart-wrenching and beautiful journey discovering all the other souls in this darkness.


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