Friday, December 17, 2010

The Lover and the Beloved

Today my heart is full. I am the Beloved. I have a very dear friend who performed a huge service for me and I paid her for this service. Actually, I hadn't paid her in full but was sending her monthly payments and we were both happy with this arrangement. This morning I received a letter from her that said: "Sweet Melissa, I am following my heart (and God's direction on this). In the spirit of the season, and with full knowlege (and God's grace), the slate is wiped clean. Hoping for lots of opportunities to be in your presence in the New Year. Merry Christmas! Pay it forward when you are able." I stood there holding that letter feeling like George Bailey.

I am a mother, a manager, a therapist, and a wife. All of the primary roles in my life make me the Lover. I am traditionally the one that gives. I am the one who performs acts of love for others, and I am content with this. I know how to care for myself and keep myself replenished so that I am able to give from a place of abundance rather than compulsion. This has not always been the case for me. I would actually say that for the majority of my life, I was parched. I had nothing to give, yet I worked myself to the bone trying to keep everyone happy. I gave from my own limited emotional and mental resources until I was completely spent. It has taken many years of healing and years of good self-care (what one friend of mine calls EXTREME SELF CARE) that I began to come back to myself. I am now more quickly able to determine when I am giving from compulsion and an empty Love Account rather than from an overflowing Love Account.

I am realizing today that, although I am content in being a Lover in this world, I cannot live this way perpetually or I will go spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. Not only do I need to keep my Love Account full through conscious daily contact with my Higher Power but I also need to stand still and allow myself to be loved on by other people. I am loved by many people and it is good to let them love on me from their own abundance. It is their spiritual service to love me and I should never rob others of their own spiritual acts of service. In the last 6 months, perhaps more than ever in my life, I have felt so loved, appreciated, and honored. Almost every day of my life I have someone encouraging me, appreciating me, and supporting me. It has become almost excessive and makes me laugh with God as I continue to experience this outpouring of love from friends and family! This friend's recent act made my heart swell. She re-filled my Love Account today. That's it! I get my Love Account replenished not only through direct contact with my Higher Power but also through His working through other people. In order to be a good Lover I have to respect my place as the Beloved as well.

Song of Solomon speaks to this problem, "Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned" (ch.8, v.7). A person who gives all they have will go bankrupt and be useless! George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life filled the Love Accounts of many people through his kindness, intelligence, and charisma. He gave until there was nothing left and he reached a point of despair. He reached a place where he had no other choice but to stand quietly in his own home while friends and family came in and gave of their abundance to rescue him. George Bailey had to respect his place as the Beloved in order to continue being a good Lover. Even God adores the praises of his children. The Lover and the Beloved are ying and yang to each other and I am really just seeing the right-ness of this for myself.

Today I am the Beloved and it feels good.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is a spiritual phrase that has been used to describe the darkest most desolate phase of a person's life. During this period of your spiritual journey, you will experience immense pain, the feeling of "going crazy," falling apart, depression, anger, terror, helplessness, and complete isolation from others. Everything you once believed yourself to be is found to be no longer true. Everything you once turned to for comfort is either no longer there or has been exposed as a sham. You may feel lost, having nothing stable to lean on, not even God, because your view of Him has been shattered too. There is often also the fear that this will never end, almost like being lost in a deep dark woods, never to be found or make your way out. This is the Dark Night, Honey.

Many spiritual icons have been said to have experienced this. There is Saint John of the Cross who wrote the beautiful poem "The Dark Night of the Soul." Mother Theresa was also said to have experienced a very dark period of years, where she felt disconnected from God. This is an experience that spans across religions and ethnicities, a very human experience. For some it may last for months and for others it may last years. Many people believe that Jesus Christ experienced his own Dark Night on the cross when he cried out, "Oh God, why have You forsaken me?"  Others believe his Dark Night may have been during his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness when he suffered intense temptations.

The process that is occurring during this Dark Night is like a spiritual reconstruction surgery. Every piece and aspect of your Self-- your thoughts, internal constructs, foundational beliefs, feelings, and the basis for why you exist-- all of this is taken and completely shattered. It hurts like hell. This is a gross oversimplification of the spiritual process taking place, but God is essentially re-building you from the ground up. You are being given no blueprint as to how this will turn out nor even do you have the wherewithal to understand that you will survive. All you can really do is continue to put one foot in front of the other and believe that God is doing a holy work in you and you will emerge from this dark forest. You WILL emerge from this dark forest. I love this excerpt from Saint John of the Cross's poem:

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

In looking back, Saint John was able to recognize his darkest period as an awesome journey that took him into true union with God.

I struggle with knowing what to do for someone who is in their Dark Night. Really there is very little I can do. It is their own journey, one that has to be walked out with their own courage and requires their complete reliance on a God they can barely feel. In my experience with people in this period of their lives, and from my own very profound experience, people can be really nasty during this stage. A person in pain often lashes out, can be highly inappropriate, rude, and ineffective as a parent, friend, or employee. When you no longer have even the internal human construct of good manners to hold you back, you may say and do some horrible and shocking things. I understand the inner chaos a person is experiencing and know that these offensive behaviors are not personally intended toward me or anyone else. Nonetheless, they can really cut and I wonder how much I am expected to withstand! I am beginning to understand that along with the deep compassion I feel for a person walking through the Dark Night, I must also hold a firm line with someone who is flailing about during this stage. I don't shame or guilt-trip a person for their behavior but I also am not required to tolerate or turn a blind-eye if I see someone I love engaging in harmful activities during this stage.

I'd like to re-post the first poem I ever published here on my blog. I wrote this after emerging from my own Dark Night of the Soul and offer it as encouragement to anyone who may be walking through this difficult time:

Coming Out

When you are running--
a shadow of yourself running from
and to yourself
frightened by a ghost self
in brambles the ache scratches
your body when you try to escape--
when you are running.
Just stay on your feet.
Know the darkness in its fullest
reach into the deep of the black
pour the anointing of the pain over
your head.
Keep running.
This is not night that comes and
goes in cycles with day, this
is suffering. This is
your very self at
its cellular level expanding and
constricting in its own rhythm.
If you can hear me there,
know that light will come when
darkness inks away
a self will emerge cracked
still running. It
will be blinding just as
the darkness is blinding.
Behind your forest wall
steady follow this scent
thick with heavy evergreen.

Photo above found at: