“Darkness such that haunts my soul.
Desperate longing for an absent God
The torture and the pain I can’t explain
My heart cries.”
These lyrics were sounding through my headphones as I walked through the dining hall Tuesday afternoon. Several years ago, the Liturgists, an experimental art project spearheaded by Michael and Lisa Gungor, created a messy liturgy for Easter weekend. They featured songs with various well known artists, and the spoken word by popular authors and speakers Amena Brown, Rachel Held Evans, and Rob Bell.
This song, Teresa, was for Good Friday. It captures the emotions and experience of Good Friday very accurately. It captures a total loss of control, and it captures a death of a sort; the song captures a deep, spiritual death. The hellfire burns through the foundations of the soul and leave dark, lifeless, ashes. It captures the death of God.
It captures the cross.
What a year. What a week. What a few couple of days this has been. Last weekend, when I wrote about mustard seeds and my career, I experienced a harsh, draining tension as I saw the current course of our nation in the midst of what was a fairly pleasant weekend. And my heart wrenched. It still wrenches. It’s been wrenching. I have no doubts it may wrench in the immediate moments after writing these words. And as I press on forward, I find myself facing the dark nights in my own existence. I find myself at loss, longing.
I often catch myself living existence with a naïve optimism and yet I also find myself facing and embracing the dark nights. What an experience, those dark nights. What an experience it is to feel lyrics that Michael Gungor sings and live the words: “My heart cries.”
And yet, we must press on. All of us. I am well aware that as of late, my heart isn’t the only one shrouded in darkness.
Every human being is said to have a God-shaped hole in their hearts.
I see it more like there’s this pedestal sitting in a well lit room in the middle of a large building sitting in the ethereal plane of our hearts. And on this pedestal, we put many things. Sometimes, it’s people or a person, sometimes it’s money, or success, or fame, or politics. We put something there, and what we put there is not God, and so it doesn’t work apparently. And since the thing or person we put there is not God, it becomes destructive. Because, apparently nothing on that pedestal can fulfill that role like God. So, some of us put God there.
But this God we put there fails us. Or this person or thing we put there fails us. It all fails us. And in the midst of this, we face the flames. We walk through the hellfire. Our ethereal journey becomes stormy. We walk through the dark, stormy weather holding our umbrellas at an angle to shield the candlelight we carry from the wind and the water. And then the wind continues to pick up. And things continue to go wrong. The soul’s seasonal climate shifts from autumn to winter. We fight a losing battle for control.
And then it comes crashing down, we wrestle the angel in the dark valley of the dying sun, fighting to hold our objects on those pedestals, and we lose our sense of control. We grip onto reality and shield our lights from the storms until we hit a limit of despair.
And then the candlelight we protect is blown out. We fall onto the floor defeated in the wrestling.
And it is at that limit, that moment, where the greatest fear of our soul lies: the fear of what happens when the parameters of our soul approach zero and when it is all let go.
And then it happens, the soul hits that limit. The parameters hit zero. We face it.
And then when we think it cannot fall any lower, it approaches an asymptote and continues to rapidly press lower past zero, becoming negative. Or at least it appears negative; the parameter’s absolute value increases. Negative numbers are negative based on a contextual reference point and the formulas the parameter is plugged into. If we change the context, perhaps it is not so negative after all.
And then we find that, without the candlelight, our eyes have become more accustomed to the darkness and we can see again, and we can see more than before, and the landscape is beautiful. We didn’t need to fight for control of our existence after all.
And the pedestal doesn’t hold the objects perhaps because it was never meant to hold any object. The pedestal, the room, the building, and the entire ethereal space is God. In losing the fight, in falling below the limits, we briefly see the face of God.
And in the midst of this death, we find hope again, and we find life. We can then relight our candle, and notice it’s warmth and let it shine as we continue walking through the storms, courageously knowing that if it is put out, we will see the beautiful landscape again, and we will be okay; the landscape around us is beautiful, and our light we carry is simply a part of the beauty and not the object that brings it. We can stand back up again.
And then we may find that spring follows winter, where we may have a sense, or even put our identity in, the ideas of the last song in that project, Garden, where Aaron Purdy sings
“‘Love’, you said
Poured out like wine
Broken like bread
Enliven our minds
Unearth the dead.”
And this resurrection of a sort fuels a hope in us. These experiences force us into reality. We come alive.
And we can then embrace our existences and the empty pedestal and the experience of our travels in the stormy weather.
What a year. What a week. What a few couple of days this has been.
We can embrace this tension, and choose to find a hope in the midst of despair. We can find significance in the insignificant. Our acts matter on our Pale Blue Dot. Every action, shaping those around us, and shaping our world. The broken cycles can be resisted.
What a year, and what a week, and what a few couple of days this has been.
We can embrace the tension and keep working through it. Our hearts will keep beating. When the candle goes out, we press onward and we can reignite our light again sometime further on.
And we can face it all. May we choose to see the absolute value of negative infinity and may we press through the darkness.