Why do I keep faith? Believe it or not, that’s not a question I have much of an answer for right now. I know I should say, “because God is good and his promises are sure and He’s always been faithful to me.” But that’s just not where I’m at right now. Instead I have been asking myself quite seriously on a fairly regular basis – why do I keep faith? What is it? Why can’t I let go? It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve kept my faith, I’ve kept on the narrow path, I’ve been obedient in things big and small, I’ve relied on God’s grace and forgiveness to cover me. And for what? Misery and humiliation and rejection and poverty? A husband with more issues than Reader’s Digest Magazine? Kids who I love but who just take and take and take and need more than I have left in me to give? Boys who I put my all into and adore, but who can’t even pull together a decent report card or a crappy certificate of achievement? A God who won’t show himself to me? A bird’s eye view of my every ugly imperfection with the full realization that I’ve done my best and I’m still a hopeless wreck? A million whiny, complaining, woe-is-me blog posts to break things up around here?
I can just hear the voices of the nay-sayers in my head, “clearly what you’re doing isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to accept reality. God either isn’t there or at he’s not what you thought he was. You’ve been making a big deal out of nothing. Making your choices on delusions and indigestion. Let it go. Walk away. Find a new path. Make your own. Plenty of other people have done it.” And I would, I swear I would. But I just . . . can’t seem to. I know it won’t mean anything to the nay-sayers – sometimes it doesn’t even mean anything to me. But I keep thinking that Jesus said he’d go back for the 1 lost sheep. He’s got to come back for me, right?
I’ve been reading a lot of John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul lately. Part of me finds great comfort in it and part of me says, “you’re an absolute idiot. The man was probably mental and so are you. Your life doesn’t suck because you’re going through some spiritual process. Your life sucks because you’ve screwed it up.” (I don’t always have nice voices living in my head, I’m afraid.) So I’ve whined and cursed God out a million times only to sheepishly add, “sorry I’m so bad at this.” But John’s words come to me every time: “That soul is worthy of all compassion which God leads into this dreadful and horrible night.” And even if it’s just my intricately wired brain conveniently spouting out what something in me wants to hear, I can’t let go.
John of the Cross quotes a lot of the prophets talking about their misery. The stereotype of the complaining Jew is not without cause – the Hebrew scripture contains some of the finest kvetching ever committed to writing. If I were to add to that inventory of complaining, it would be this : I am being ground into dust. One thing after another with never enough time to recover in between. I’m being ground into dust. And again, I wonder why it is I keep holding onto faith? Even though he’s never there and there’s no comfort in it, I just keep turning to God, turning to God, turning to God. And I swear I would stop. I’d turn away, but there’s one memory which I’m going to share here now that stops me every time when nothing else will. I’m sharing this here even though I know it will be misunderstood and doubted and even seem like I’m trying to inflate myself – which is quite far from the truth. I’m sharing it here because I put here those things I am committed to. And those things that I need to be reminded of myself. (I would be embarrassed for people to know how often I have gone back to read the things I write here just to be reminded of what I know is true or what has helped me through in the past.) When I put something here, I can’t take it back and so one day when my doubt threatens to overwhelm me entirely, I’ll remember that it’s here and that I was once so comitted to this memory that I put it down here.
Last summer shortly after my husband left, I needed someplace to pray and cry before heading out in public so I went to the local Catholic Church’s chapel. I was in a terrible state and I felt like God had withdrawn himself and I couldn’t calm myself enough to just meditate. So, I decided to pray to Mary. She was a mother and a wife with her own family problems. And according to my old Catholic faith, she intercedes and petitions God for us. So, I went over to her statue off to the side at the from of the chapel and prayed. Now, when you spend enough time in prayer, you learn to quiet yourself down and listen for the voice of God, if he chooses to speak. It’s almost like tuning into a faint, fuzzy radio station with an old dial tuner. Sometimes it’s silent, but sometimes there’s a program on. But first you have to tune in with quiet. This was the quiet I couldn’t get myself to, but I was surprised that tuning into Mary’s voice was quite easy on this day. She seemed to tell me that I could always come and talk to her. She would always be there for me. And then she instructed me, “now I need you to go talk to my son.”
So I crossed the room to the statue of Jesus at the other side and knelt down. By this time I was calm enough to be quiet and listen. So I prayed and told Jesus how much I was hurting and how hard I had tried. I said something like, “You know that I’ve examined my life and my heart through and through. If nothing else, I have a good heart. I know that. You know that.” And right then, in my mind’s eye I was shown a crystal heart. It was shaped like a real human heart. It stood against a black background and was lit as if it were under jeweler’s lights.
I was horrified. I can’t even tell you why, except that it was an instant gut level reaction. “I can’t take care of that!” I thought. The impossibility of keeping it clean – what with all the mud being flung at me and my own screw-ups – was almost overwhelming. “Will you take it, Jesus?” Again, it was an instant, gut level request. And in my mind’s eye, I saw the heart as if wrapped in a black cloth with just a bit of it peaking out being passed upward. And I thought, “how weird.”
I sat there for a little bit looking up at the statue of Jesus in front of me. It was one that’s commonly found in Catholic Churches that is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, for those of you not in the know, looks like a real human heart with a crown of thorns around it. It is pierced and has blood coming from the wound. A flame and cross sits on top of it. (It comes from a nun’s vision long ago. Here’s the wiki link to the story.) As I looked at it, I thought, “Jesus, your heart looks much more durable than mine. And it’s been through so much already. Can I use it, since mine is gone?” I sensed assent and then it was just quiet. I was as close to being at peace as I could be in that time.
After a little while I got up, not really knowing what to make of the whole thing, and went out to run my errands. I still have no idea what it all meant or if I was in a stress and emotion induced state of unreality or something. It was a real enough experience, although absolutely nothing changed after it so far as I can tell. Many months later while meditating about it, trying to figure out what it could mean, I remembered the verse “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” It fits, although I still don’t really understand it. But I do know that every time I am past the point of despair, this memory comes back. And I figure it must mean something and I can’t let go.
I know that some people reading this will think I am crazy. I may well be crazy – I’ve thought it myself often enough. Although people who are actually crazy aren’t usually willing to consider the idea. Other people will think I’m claiming sainthood or some special status. I can assure you that I’m no saint and as often as not I’ve handled the stress and traumas of the last few years pretty badly. I’ve taken shots of whiskey at 8 in the morning when my heart hurt so bad I thought I was going to die. I truly would have committed suicide months ago if I could have convinced myself that it wouldn’t destroy my kids. I deliberately piss people off so I won’t be hurt if they don’t call or say things I don’t want to hear. I’ve prayed earnestly for my husband to be hit with a bus. I have hissy fits at my kids and scare them. I’ve seriously considered having myself committed just to get some good drugs and time away. I’m no saint, that’s for sure. Which is maybe the point. That God isn’t just committed to the perfect, the beautiful and the successful.
Like I said, I have been asking myself why I keep the faith. Why can’t I walk away. John of the Cross does have one answer which is probably the only real explanation: that no matter how lost or near to death the soul feels, God is actually protecting it and keeping it perfectly safe. Which I think must be the answer because if it were up to me, I really would have walked away. God protects us even from ourselves, I suppose.