Night Clouds in the Desert Skies
Last evening as dark clouds gathered in the desert skies on one of the longest nights of the year, I reflected on how different those dark desert skies looked compared to when they beam brightly in the morning or glow in the rays of the afternoon sun.
It all made me realize that while I relish the daytime, the night has also much to teach about the spiritual journey.
The dark night clouds made me think about a celebrated saint of recent memory - Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
To be very honest, while she was alive, I didn't really pay all that much attention to Mother Teresa or to her work among the very poor in India. People would often remark about how radiant she looked, how "beatific" she always appeared. She was hailed as a living saint in her time, obviously basking in the assurance of the Divine Presence.
I actually began to pay much closer attention to the life of Mother Teresa after she died. Her memoirs were posthumously published in which she disclosed that for most of her adult life she had little or no experience nor assurance of a Divine Presence in her life. Most of the time "God" was absent and she often wondered whether there even was a "God" at all.
Mother Teresa, the living saint who appeared so radiantly "beatific" had experienced a "dark night of the soul" for the majority of her adult life, and yet she faithfully persevered through it all.
She said her prayers, quietly sat in silent meditation, and she did the work she felt called to do - feeding and clothing the poorest of the poor, rescuing the outcasts thrown onto the trash heaps of society on the streets of Calcutta, building schools and hospitals.
She did all this while living under dark clouds of doubt and unknowing, and yet faithfully persevering through it all.
In her last few years the light broke through - morning came, Holy Presence, Blessed Assurance.
I think the life of Mother Teresa is a wonderful icon of what the spiritual journey is really all about.
I once heard someone say that, for many people "spirituality" and the spiritual journey is like a warm and comforting "jacuzzi. You occasionally take a dip into various forms of spiritual "practices" in order to soothe your troubles and relax your soul - a few prayers in church, a quiet meditation on a yoga mat, sitting by the ocean at sunset on a sandy beach, then it's time to dry off and get back into real life again.
From my point of view, the spiritual journey is about as far from being a spiritual jacuzzi as you can get.
The desert where I live teaches me more about Holy Absence than Holy Presence. The towering stone mountains and the endlessly dry wilderness terrain are daily reminders that the "God" I seek can never really be found, or captured, tamed or named, and all my comfortable jacuzzi-answers have turned into questions that are often very uncomfortable to me. I always walk under a cloud of unknowing.
But the unknowing is what makes my desert spirituality exciting - never comfortable but always exciting. The dark clouds make the brightness of the sun always brighter when the morning dawns.
In my later years I have come to believe that the spiritual journey is essentially all about "showing up" - getting up every morning and faithfully persevering come what may. So that's what I do every day - I show up for the journey in the wilderness. I show up and wait to see what happens along the way.
Sometimes the light breaks through, sometimes the clouds prevail. Sometimes my "unknowing" brings me into deeper darkness, sometimes the veil is lifted and I stand at the threshold of greater faith.
Tonight will be the longest night of the year. I guess I'll wait and see what tomorrow brings.
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