In the book “Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics & other Wanderers” Eric Elnes writes:
You have a place in this world where awkwardness dissolves and you are most fully alive, most fully human. You know this place very well, though you may feel far from it. You may not always know how to get to it, but you recognize it when you return to it. It exists in early childhood, and we stumble into and out of this place of aliveness throughout our lives, especially during periods of upheaval or transition.
Most of us avoid experiences of failure, emptiness, and uncertainty if there is any possible way to do so. Yet, there are times when we come face to face with feeling off-balance, uncertain, feeling like a failure, empty, alone. And there are times where as much as we would like to either be in denial or ignore those experiences, the Lenten journey invites us to recognize the gifts these experiences can offer if we pay attention. They can offer clues to our calling or path in life. Our sense of failure, loss and disappointment can lead to creative results.
Christian mystics, understood struggle, confusion, emptiness, and stumbling not as punishment for sin as some would interpret it, but as the central context in which revelation takes place. St John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul; Saint Teresa of Avila called it the 5th mansion; Dionysus the Areopagite called it the cloud of unknowing. ALL of them insisted that the Dark Wood is a place where one receives strange and wondrous gifts whose value vastly exceeds whatever hardships are encountered there. The Dark Wood is where you meet God!
I guess we should be careful about what we pray for and what we are asking.
The mystics taught that this is the place where you discover who you are and what your life is about – flaws and all. In the Dark Wood – you bring all your shortcomings with you – not in order to purge them or be judged by them, but to embrace them in such a way that your struggles contribute meaningfully to the central conversation God is inviting you to have with your life.
Throughout Lent we will explore themes of temptation, uncertainty, getting lost, being thunderstruck, emptiness, disappearing, and becoming a misfit. They may appear more like curses than blessings and it may feel strange that Dark Wood experiences are part of God’s grace and generosity. So all you really need to enter this journey of Lent is be struggling with something.
Many saints moved not from failure to success but from failure to faithfulness, which requires the ongoing possibility of failure. Struggle and challenge provide one of the most reliable contexts in which to discover your path in life, or find your way back when lost. We recall from scripture that Jesus frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray with his disciples. We are disciples on a journey in the wilderness and we share the road with one another with Jesus going before us to light our way.
As we prepare to be marked by God’s love and be reminded of our mortality, we will listen to an anthem our choir sang two years ago – Kyrie. It is a responsive prayer used in the Roman Catholic Mass, with the Greek words Kyrie eleison, Christ eleison, Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy”).
The images Judy provided are places of prayer where we might utter these words.