Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Desert: Looking for a Map

I'm not in a good place. I feel frustrated. Let down. Lied to and strung along and abandoned in the middle of a wasteland.

It doesn't feel like depression. Being depressed walls you off from the bright, busy world and shuts you up in a dark and empty place. You want to get out there, where life is good, but you can't. This is different. Here, I'm not separated from the world. I'm just sick of it. I don't want to write, because there's nothing worth saying. I'm usually a chatterbox, but now I don't want to speak a single word. I don't want to read, or spend time with people, or listen to music, or knit, or do anything, because everything seems pointless-- a way of crowding out the silence and the anger inside.

That crazy dash to cover up the God-shaped hole? I see Christians doing it more than anyone else. I sit through a worship service and yawn at the syrupy music. I wince when a pastor brags about the souls that God gave to him to save. I read a religious text, and wonder how anyone could believe the smug, hateful garbage that we as Christians keep putting out. Here's a concept I thought I understood: the Church gets it wrong sometimes, but God is faithful. Turns out that when the Church is really getting on my nerves, I have trouble believing in God's faithfulness.

I bought a book on prayer to try to boost myself long enough to attend my friend's healing service. I've bought a lot of books on prayer in the last few years. I've tried prayer beads and books on contemplative prayer and books on praying through the liturgical cycle and prayer books from traditions as varied as the Benedictine monks and the Mennonites. But I haven't prayed, not in years-- at least, it hasn't felt like prayer. I used to pray all the time, and I would talk and talk and talk to God and have a warm and fluttery feeling that I was sure meant that God was listening. Now when I pray, I'm just talking to myself. I think. Maybe.

There was a chapter on healing prayer in the latest book, which is why I ordered it. But when I received the book, I saw it had a chapter on prayer in the dark night of the soul. Here's what the author had to say:

It feels horrible, and it happens without any apparent rhyme or reason. You end up hating everything. Friendships seem false and the Church makes you sick. Your prayers bounce off of the ceiling. God just isn't around. You try to keep up your habits and wait it out, but it doesn't go away. So don't try to make it go away. Be angry at God. Pray the Psalms that you used to avoid. Learn what you can from St. John of the Cross and others who have gone before. Learn not to depend on the rituals and doctrines that you built your faith on. Learn to live in the silence. 

I am not good with silence.

I went to my friend's healing service, and when the congregation prayed for her, I sat with my eyes closed, flinging my thoughts at the ceiling and hoping that they wouldn't bounce.

"Heal her," one voice came, and I thought, Yes, heal her.

"We want her to be healed," said another voice, "but if it's not your will, your will be done." And I thought, Don't you dare will sickness for her. Don't be that god. And when the deacons gathered around my friend and laid their hands on her in a blessing, all the rest of us surrounded them and rested our hands on each other's shoulders, and I was in the back, reaching out, shrieking in my head, God! Listen! Listen to them! Because I didn't have any prayers to say. And I don't understand God. And neither do the people who say that God knows better than we do and that's why God wills trials like cancer.

My brother is learning how to track people through the desert. He's learning to decipher how many people crossed the fence, and how long ago, and what they've done since as he follows them deep into the Arizona wilderness. He knows how to see the history of a place in dust and chips of stone. But I can't do that. Deserts are tricky. I found myself here, and looked around, and thought I was all alone. I can't see the footsteps of the saints who walked before me. I don't know if I walked here on my own or if somebody led me here. I know that I'm going further in, whether I want to or not. I know that it gets darker up ahead. I don't know whether I'll come out with newfound faith or with empty bitterness, or whether I won't come out at all. I'm learning that I need to reevaluate what I carry with me, because deserts are unforgiving to the heavy burdened. I'm learning that Greek philosophy can't be all bad, since a little Socratic ignorance is proving helpful. I'm starting to wonder if maybe God is far ahead instead of years behind me. I'm learning to get used to the silence.

No comments:

Post a Comment