Have you ever found yourself in a spiritual slump?
I have been there many times throughout my life. Maybe I have been more aware when it happened than most people because I was required to preach most Sundays and lead bible studies, prayer meetings and to counsel on other days. I was always under pressure to produce a “word from God” or at least "Godly wisdom". And all of that required a heightened awareness of God and to try and keep a kind of “open channel”.
The longest continuous period that I experienced “open heavens” in my life, was the last nearly twelve months while I was supporting a very close friend who was in an epic battle with cancer. I was able to hear clearly God’s voice and to communicate with God-self easily. It was one of the most fruitful times of my whole life.
That was until about two weeks after his funeral when I wanted to write and I found that the words would just not flow. I recognised a lot of old fears that I’d hoped had disappeared completely in the past months. Right now, I find myself in a dark place in comparison to where I’d been a couple of weeks ago. Compared to the “darkness” where I used to be most of the time a couple of years ago, this current darkness is like midday. But it is still very dark in comparison to the previous months of great enlightenment. “When we let go of painful images of God - images that no longer serve - we often feel like we’re stumbling in the dark. It takes a while for our eyes to adjust, and for us to find new footing.” wrote Richard Rohr. This is where I think I am right now. It seems as if God is hiding - in a cloud, in darkness … maybe in inaccessible light? Perhaps what I experienced in those months and through the loss of a friend, actually slowly reduced my personal darkness so that I am now experiencing God without the sunglasses I’d been using all my life? As a result, my present state now seems to be darkness?
Could I be blinded by the light which I now experience as darkness? Maybe my inability to produce the words I’m searching for is what I need to adjust my perception of the Light of Life?
I think I am actually looking at God through screwed-up eyes. I walked into the light of the bathroom this morning and my face said it all: “I don’t like getting up at four thirty anymore … I actually need to close my eyes and just go back to sleep. I am feeling my age”. We don’t really like change do we? That is why we endure the darkness and the dark glasses for so long that blindness becomes our identity. Thomas Merton helped me: “The more perfect faith is, the darker it becomes. The closer we get to God, the less is our faith diluted with the half-light of created images and concepts”. Maybe I am sorting through more “painful images of God that are not serving anymore”?
Maybe this is a “more perfect faith”?
Maybe I am at last journeying out of the three most powerful bondages of my life: the fear of man, the fear of failure and the need for praise?
Maybe I have just seen too much death, grace, heroic and extravagant giving, gratitude, depression, hope, deep loneliness these last two years and my dark glasses have been forcefully and gracefully removed?
My sense of identity is so deeply interwoven with the connection I feel with God, that any disturbance in that causes old insecurities to arise. And then the go-to place is my old me - the one I invented - the one who is still as fearful of man and of failure as it was when I invented it to protect and to serve me. From there it is one small step into the desire to please - both the “hard taskmaster God” and goal-setting, rule-abiding, all-wise humans – both of whom are forever calculating my worth. I learnt when I was still very small that when I pleased authority figures, they “loved” me. But I’d always confused love with attention and applause. Love is by definition unconditional. It never withdraws its acceptance, although it may not approve of the choices you have made.
Attention and applause, on the other hand, last as long as the performance is still pleasing and then the audience go home and you are left with the empty auditorium - until the next curtain call. I think I may be lost in the darkness of God-self! “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne”, wrote the Psalmist (Psalm 97: 2 esv)
And what seems to me to be the frightful absence of love may actually be the overwhelming presence of God. For in this cloud, in this darkness I may just discover who I am without the applause, without the validation of this world ... without the feelings of spiritual bliss.
But I need to finally let go of my dark glasses. I need to be enveloped by the cloud; open my eyes to be seared by the inaccessible light of God. Be willing to be wrong, so wrong … all the time. This journey is about discovery and that can only happen if you are willing to leave some things behind. I am unscrewing my face. My brow is lifting, my eyes are opening. Some ice cold reality splashes in my face. And I look in the mirror and see … me. And I look deeper and see … Christ in me. And I know I am being changed into the image I see … from one degree of “being with” to the next degree of “being one with”. And that is all that matters.