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The human “issue” we won’t talk about. . .


Last Tuesday I wrote that I would be at on silent retreat.  I spent the better part of four days in silence at the Abbey of the Gennesee in upstate New York.  I was fine as we made our way there, a five hour journey by Honda Civic.  My faithful companion and I chatted about life, God’s will, and how beautiful the day was; still there was a small nagging concern in the pit of my stomach.  The last time I had spent a number of hours in silence, intently listening for God’s voice, I ended up in a puddle of tears and despair.  Loneliness overtaking the deepest part of my being.  I was worried that it would happen again and I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to “go there.”

A little self disclosure here might aid the reader as I continue.  The past two years of my life and ministry have been extremely difficult.  The congregation that I am privileged to serve, carefully and faithfully discerned that we would break ties with the ELCA and join the NALC.  It was a theological, confessional move for us. . . but not without significant pain.  Pain of separation.  Pain of loss.  Pain of change.  Pain of broken relationships.  Pain of grief.  For me, this was like a divorce.  I went through a divorce when my parents split up.  Even though I was a young adult, it was devastating.  Leaving the church of my infancy, childhood, teen years and adulthood was equally devastating.

In those times of silence when I sought God’s will for more than a few minutes, I had the experience of being desperately alone, in complete and utter darkness.  The loneliness was pervasive.  I would find myself weeping, sobbing, unable to catch my breath from the pain of it all.  (For those of you who know me, you know that I am normally a very happy person, upbeat, joyful, silly, playful etc. so this is not a normal state of being for me.) So, as we ventured toward the abbey I was mildly concerned that entering into silence might leave me exposed again, vulnerable to that dark place that would like to swallow we whole.  But I was open to learning what this was all about.  I wanted (and want) to be closer to the heart of Christ. . . so with some mustering of courage I pushed forth.

Needless to say, in vespers it happened.  Again, during compline, I was reduced to sobbing. I found myself asking God, “Why would you take me to this dark and lonely place?”  I heard myself saying to Christ, “I just want to die” it was so dark in that place.  Andrew Root, in his book The Promise of Despair, speaks of this deep alone-ness that we humans experience in this life.  However, it seems to be the one emotion that we are afraid to admit to. . . I have caught myself saying, “How can you be lonely in a church full of people?”  Answer is, you just can!  Root writes, “I wonder if we have really dared to see and admit how alone we really are and how deeply painful loneliness is.  Psychologists say that patients have the hardest time talking about loneliness because loneliness is the closest feeling to the annihilation of death.”  (Is it any coincidence that my friend KMS, fellow author at CCD, urged me to read this book and it is the one I took with me to the abbey?)

My companion urged me to stay with the feeling, that God was there in the depths of my loneliness.  I trusted that . . . and by the morning, light began to shine on my darkness.  By sext (noon worship) I began to fully understand the psalmist when he sang, “You’ve turned my mourning into dancing.”  I realized that God didn’t lead me into that dark and lonely place, but rather was fully and completely accompanying me right where I was.  Amidst the pain and death of shattered dreams, broken friendships, and complete alone-ness, God met me and pulled me into his lap and urged me to put my head on his chest.  Soon our hearts were beating in rhythm like drummers pounding out a beat.

I learned that no other human being can help me to not feel alone, they cannot fill that hole inside of me that yearns to be close to the One who loves me most.  I can’t do that for anyone else either.  Loneliness is NOT a matter of the quality of our human relationships.  Our human relationships, as fulfilling as they are, can never come close to what Christ wants to offer us at the heart of God.  No matter how desperate and alone we feel, no matter the pain of separation/angst/confusion/uncertainty, Christ is fully present there with us- right where we are, wherever that happens to be!  Especially in those dark places that seek to swallow us whole.  Thanks be to God!


One Comment leave one →
  1. 9November2011 12:34

    Amy –

    Thanks for a honest look at the reality of our humanness that we will not own and seek at all costs to avoid. (And no – it is probably no coincidence. The Spirit is way too ever-present for it to be coincidence. Just as it was no coincidence that after sitting on my study table for 5 months, I was somehow compelled to start reading that book the day we would be on retreat together! )

    Peace –
    KMS @ CCD

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