Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dark Night of the Soul

Although I am not going to use this to work through the tome by this title written by St. John of the Cross, I nominate the title as one of the all time great titles.  Written by the widely acclaimed Spanish mystic who lived roughly 1542 to 1581, the book is actually part of another work called Ascent of Mount Carmel.  You can Google it or read it for yourself...

The title is an intriguing one for me -- especially at this time of the year.  At the very moment when the Church proclaims that the Light of the world has come, incarnate in the flesh and blood of Jesus, born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, so many folks find the darkness of their lives even darker.  While so many are celebrating so much, there are also many whose lives are wounded by sorrow, touched by grief, burdened by disease and chronic pain, and veiled in the shadows of deep depression.  I cannot go through this season without acknowledging this and those people who fight to get through it all.

As a Pastor I look out on a congregation of people whose wounds may be hidden to others but are sometimes visible to me.  I see people recuperating from major surgeries with varying degrees of success.  I see folks whose lives will not be restored but will be lived within the limitations of pain or frailty until death comes.  I see people torn because family members are in the midst of a health crisis and their travels this season are not the joyful homecomings to which we look forward but the lonely journeys to bear with the burdens of those whom they love.  I see husbands facing this Christmas without their wives and wives facing Christmas without their husbands -- often for the first time since death separated them.  I see families split by divorce with children caught in a tug of war between both parents whom they love.  I see people who struggle to smile, some even to get out of the house, because their spirit's are cast down in depression and despair.

Yet it is exactly for the dark night of our souls that Christ came, still comes, and will come again.  He comes as the Light to enlighten all our darkness.  Not as instantaneous as we would switch on the lights in a room, but the often slow and unfolding Light that brightens more by degree than by drama.  I am truly touched by these many and by the weights that they bear -- day in and day out -- but especially so during the holidays.

I guess that is why one of my favorite Christmas carols is rather new. Written by Jaroslav Vajda with haunting tune by Carl Schalk, this has become the one text and tune that I think of when I look upon those who are so weighed down that Christmas comes with sorrow as well as joy.  And the message is radical, relentless, and even reckless grace --- THERE IS STILL ROOM FOR ME!  So read the words today and listen to the you-tube video and I pray that it will be a comfort to those so heavily burdened and to those who know and love them...

Where shepherds lately knelt and kept the angel's word,
I come in half-belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred;
But there is room and welcome there for me,
But there is room and welcome there for me.

In that unlikely place I find him as they said:
Sweet newborn Babe, how frail! And in a manger bed,
A still small voice to cry one day for me,
A still small voice to cry one day for me.

How should I not have known Isaiah would be there,
His prophecies fulfilled? With pounding heart I stare:
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me,
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me.

Can I, will I forget how Love was born, and burned
It's way into my heart unasked, unforced, unearned,
To die, to live, and not alone for me,
To die, to live, and not alone for me.

For me.... that is the message we need to hear.  For me in my sorrows, in my pain, in my sin, in my loss, in my wounds, in my despair, and even in my death.... There is still room for me...    These are the words the sing out in the dark night of our souls and bid us come to the manger, meet at the cross, stare into the empty tomb, and watch the ascending figure... and then to gather where the Word and Sacraments of the Lord continue to make place, room, and grace enough for me.  Blessed, Jesu, make it so... for me, for the wounded, and for those who love them...


Anonymous said...

Your words about the hidden suffering of people are poignant. There are diseases which leave the victim outwardly unchanged. "But you look so good" comes to their ears all too often while all the time they are suffering. Ofcourse, whether it is a physical or emotional disease, most of us will not admit our pain to others. It is far easier to summon a smile than to explain.

Those who suffer are encouraged to speak up. They need to let others know of their situation. It is sad to see that non-Christians do this better than Christians.

On top of that, if one IS willing to "open up," fellow believers either seem to blow it off, or ignore what you say. "Oh, you'll be all right!" "I'll pray for you!" (oh, really?). I see non-believers in places like support groups and online forums trying to make a difference better than we do.

Believers, feel for your fellow sufferers. The word is EMPATHY. St. Paul speaks of weeping when other weep and rejoicing when they rejoice.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

And what a hymn! We'll be singing it in our church this Christmas.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

I believe this is a hymn in the WELS hymnal "Christian Worship."

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Silly me, I overlooked this hymn is also in LSB, #369.