As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Friday, January 31, 2014

Open to Life

So, I've been doing some reading lately.  Heavy in the superficial suffering of motherhood, I opened Dark Night of the Soul in search of a consoling quote to affirm my cross.  What I found instead what an invitation to journey into the depths of my soul, with the promise of deeper union with God in His Divine Love - something I realize I have never even come close to understanding (and am so very far from).

I am not the same as I was before I started reading it.  And yet, I am nowhere near where I need to be.  I suppose none of us are, and that is the point of life.  We journey towards truth, we walk the path of constant conversion, knowing we are never fully there - that there is always something new to attain. But this time, I feel like it's different.  I had often thought that my relationship with God was like climbing a mountain - I walk and walk and walk towards the clouds up above, and break through only to find there is still so much more mountain beyond.  In knowing more, I realize that I still have so very much to learn and yet, it was merciful of the Lord to show me only portions at a time. The sight of my entire journey might have caused me to turn back, but the little victories have given me the courage to keep on climbing.

Now, however, I feel like there are much fewer clouds, and the Lord is showing me that there is indeed, a much longer journey still ahead.  I think this is merciful too, because if I keep conquering only small bits at a time I start to think myself pretty efficient at this whole mountain climbing business. I start to rely on my own efforts, and stop relying on God.  And so, I feel as though the cloudcover is being lifted, and for the first time I see a very long journey ahead of me, one I cannot even hope to do without God.  A Dark Night.

The book speaks often of beginners, who are really quite immature, and run the risk of becoming like the pharisees if they give into the sinful inclinations that come with having a little bit of knowlege and even less of a prayer life.  I fall into that category.  There are two nights that St. John of the Cross describes - the dark night of the senses, and the dark night of the spirit.  In the dark night of the senses, our attachment to desires of the flesh are purged.  This is where I believe I am, and in fact the reason I picked up the book in the first place.  I thought to myself, "Maybe the Dark Night of the Soul isn't just an agonizingly dry prayer life - maybe it can be the tedious, everyday trials that constantly come one on top of the other, that the soul has to fight against in order to remain virtuous and not succomb to. I am nowhere near as prayerful as to experience first the intense joy of a powerful experience of the Lord, followed by the despair of the perceived loss of that presence.  But I do, in my circumstances, often feel that while I know the Lord is near, these daily occasions of sin bring out the worst in me, and I constantly choose sin over God.  Maybe this is my dark night."

Turns out, that's part of it.  But it is so very much more. The dark night of the senses is the first step on the journey, and the dark night of the spirit is a much greater work that comes after, and perfects the soul for Divine Union with God.  St. John of the Cross is helping me so much to understand how my daily struggles are for my own greater happiness, and how I don't need to pretend they're not there.  I can't think that if I do a good job at praying, these things won't bother me and that the fact that they are means I'm not praying enough.  They are a fact of my life, and are themselves my opportunity to pray, my road to sanctification.  He has lifted a huge burden from my spirit in terms of the way I see myself, and through his beautiful poetry (which I will share at the end of this post) has romanced me into wanting to continue on this journey.

Then today, I came to the end of the first book, and the beginning of the second - the dark night of the spirit. And it terrified me!  This is the night I had heard of when people referenced this great work so many times in my youth.  I know it to be a time of terrible suffering, and St. John of the Cross confirms this much.  I read the first chapter and thought, "oh no Lord, I can't go there.  How can I?"  I didn't want it. And then, this line:

In poverty, and without protection or support in all the apprehensions of my soul - that is, in the darkness of my understanding and the constraint of my will, in affliction and anguish with respect to memory, remaining in the dark in pure faith, which is dark night for the said natural faculties, the will alone being touched by grief and afflictions and yearnings for the love of God - I went forth from myself - that is, from my low manner of understanding, from my weak mode of loving, and from my poor and limited manner of experiencing God, without being hindered therein by sensuality or the devil.

I am a loooooooong way from this point, but that quote spoke to me so much of the reason why I need to continue on this journey, despite my fear of suffering.  It made me think very much about when a new baby is conceived, the fear that comes with the thought of labour and delivery (which for me, gets worse each time). And yet, how could you ever say you don't want that baby?  You picture their little face, holding them in your arms, and you know that even though the sufferings are very real, you will do it for the joy that awaits on the other side.  This is openness to life. So too we are called to be open to life in Christ. There will be sweetness, joy, elation, fulfillment - but also, pain and suffering, at times overwhelming.  But the joy and the sweet face of Christ await us, and call us to Him.

Dear Jesus, please help me to continue on this path in faithfulness, open to new life in your love. Sustain me in my suffering, console me in my struggles, and wrap me in your joy as I journey into the night with You.

Stanzas of the Soul - St. John of the Cross

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me— A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

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