Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection October 30, 2016
Dark Nights and the Silence of God (Conclusion)
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
As most know, my beloved and beautiful Beth went home to God this past Wednesday, October 19, just after 5:00 PM. She had been at home on hospice for two weeks. I was with her when she passed. She was taken away for cremation as per her request.
I want this week to complete this three-part series on the silence of God. There is a perennial problem understanding the unnerving silence of God when we see so much wrong with our world. The world is a mess and it has always been a mess.
Why do good people suffer so? Why the suffering of children? Why do lovely, vibrant people such as my beloved Beth die so prematurely? Where is God in all of this? I’ve spent a lifetime trying to discern a reasonable and satisfactory answer.
One thing I’ve come to know is that the God we meet in suffering is not the omnipotent God we typically extol in philosophy. The God who is silent in the midst of all the suffering we see around us, the God who was silent when my beloved Beth suffered from her vicious malignancy, is the God who has become wounded in and through love.
In the dark night, we often recognize our disillusionment with the things of the world. We see the emptiness, the meaninglessness, of much of our striving. We recognize our misguided but chronic need for affirmation.
But we also begin to understand that our ideas about God need to change. We need to let go of the naive notions of the Almighty that were part and parcel of our childhood. We come to see, in the words of the mystic John of the Cross, that God is not a thing we can even talk about. God is not a thing!
As I mentioned this past Sunday: we must come to believe in our deepest heart and our deepest soul, that we are united to God with a bond that has never been broken, a bond that can never be broken. The bond is God’s love for each of us, even for the most desperate sinner among us.
God is at the core of each person. We can never really achieve union with God because that union already exists. In the dark night, we come to know this fundamental, foundational, truth. We can never escape God. We can never withdraw ourselves from God’s love - either here or in eternity.
As the psychiatrist and spiritual writer, Gerald May, notes in his treatise The Dark Night of the Soul (an incredibly rich book to read): “The dark night helps us become who we are created to be: lovers of God and one another … we are born with a heart full of desire for God. This yearning is our fundamental motivating source; it is the human spirit. It is the energy behind everything we seek and aspire to.”
We are made for love. But we stumble into trouble because we become too attached to things. We love what we accumulate instead of loving God and one another. This is one of the reasons why God appears silent. We mistrust the love residing at our core and seek our consolation in power and possessions. We grasp instead of embracing. (Please re-read this paragraph: it is tremendously important to our spiritual journey!)
My beloved Beth taught me many of these things. To fully learn this truth, we must relinquish everything which is not love. We must learn to simplify our lives. We must learn to empty ourselves instead of always filling ourselves up with this and that. Our spiritual life is much more about subtraction rather than addition.
God is certainly the Master of All Creation. Yet to think of God in such a way makes God seem quite separate from us. The God who is in charge of everything - the God who can give us good things as well as bad things - who is so transcendent, often leads to the dead end of agnosticism and atheism.
A God who doles out blessings, who grants an occasional healing, who tests us whenever it seems appropriate, is not the God of the Dark Night. Such a God is also not a God who seems to love us unconditionally. This is not the God who was with me as I sat and watched my beloved, beautiful Beth waste away in her tragic sickness.
The God who I believe in, the God who was with me, the God who swept Beth up in a divine embrace last week, is the God who has become wounded by and for love. No other God makes sense to me. No other God is worthy of my worship!
As the Episcopalian pastor Alan Jones writes in Soulmaking: “The humiliation of God for the sake of Love means there is a rift in the heart of God. There is, therefore, no human heartbreak, no alienation, which cannot find its home in the broken heart of God.” What reassuring words!
I’m truly heart-broken by Beth’s passing. I’m not sure at times how I will go on. Last Sunday, I cautioned people to stop asking: “How are you doing?” I don’t have any good answer to that question. I don’t know how I am doing.
I know that the passage of time may well help heal what is broken. But, then again, time may only break open more fissures in my heart and soul. Time will tell.
My faith is not about what I believe. My faith is about a surrender - a willingness - to rest in the all-powerful love of God. I feel myself now to be deeply empty. I pray that this deep emptiness may be filled with the only balm that can suffice: God’s love!