Choosing instead, as love will always choose, This darker path into the heart of pain.
It has been a long time since our last blog post; this is because we have been immersed in a horrific family tragedy these past few months. On March 20 we received a phone call from our daughter-in-law that she was at the hospital where our two grandchildren had just been brought by ambulance after being brutally attacked in their home. Our 22-year old granddaughter and 25-year old grandson were both undergoing surgery for traumatic brain injuries. When we arrived at the hospital after a daylong drive, still reeling from what seemed to be a nightmare, we found that our grandson was badly hurt, but was expected to make a good recovery. Our granddaughter who was much more seriously injured was in the intensive care unit and still unconscious. At the time of this writing our grandson has been released from the hospital and is beginning to resume his normal life. Our granddaughter has been through a series of hopeful advances and painful setbacks as she undergoes a long and difficult process of healing.
As we continue to cope with the intense feelings of grief, anger, and anxiety that we are experiencing as we see the suffering of our beloved grandchildren, we also are holding fast to our core belief that all experiences in life – pain and sorrow as well as joy and beauty – can give us an opportunity for deeper spiritual practice and growth in love. So as we respond to the outer needs of our family crisis, we are also committing ourselves to the inner work that our lives are currently demanding from us. We have found so many soul companions who are traveling with us and giving us strength on this journey – old and new friends, our church family, and our online Insight Timer meditation community. We are sharing our personal story in gratitude to all those whose love and support have sustained us throughout this ordeal.
We recognize the profound synchronicity in the timing of this tragedy during the holy season of Lent; our first week at the hospital occurred several days after our return from a Wisdom School retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault and several days before the most sacred days in the Christian calendar which mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our time at Wisdom School turned out to be an even greater blessing than we had expected, for this powerful spiritual experience gave us strength and wisdom that we needed so much in the days and weeks that followed.
Our experience of Holy Week was completely different from our usual contemplative one: at a time that we usually spend in solitude, prayer and meditation, we were catapulted into an external situation, horrific and beyond our control, which we had to simply respond to. But this year it seemed that we were living the sacred story of Christ’s Passion: confronting the darkness and the suffering that are the conditions of this earthly realm. We realized that this was actually much truer to the living experience of Jesus, Mary his mother and Mary his beloved, and all those who loved him. They weren’t contemplatively observing a sacred time, but were dealing with the horrors of this earthly realm and the depths of human suffering.
At the center of the Passion story stands the Cross, the fundamental symbol of Christianity. In the Wisdom tradition, the horizontal beam of the Cross represents the temporal, earthly world and the vertical beam depicts the timeless, transcendent realm. As the two beams of the Cross join in the center, the divine energies continually flow into linear time and manifest in the eternal Now. This symbol has a deeply personal meaning for us this year as we see our grandchildren, like Jesus, hung on the Cross of Life. They too are living the human story of the innocent ones who suffer due to the violence of man. And since all of us who love them are suffering, we are also experiencing a crucifixion. We realize that this is an opportunity for us to enter more deeply into the kenotic practice of Jesus and so we try to focus on letting go of personal desires and simply opening to Love.
Another aspect of the Passion story that we especially resonate with at this time is the image of the two women at the Cross: Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. The icon of the “Stabat Mater,” the Mother standing at the Cross, has profound meaning in the Christian faith because it expresses the deepest pain of the human heart which sees the suffering of one’s child and yet is helpless to alleviate it. We see this image now in the mother of our grandchildren as she stands strong before the suffering of her children. This is also the task for all of us, to stand firm and upright in the horizontal dimension of human life so that we are aligned to the vertical dimension of Spirit from which our strength comes.
We also realize the prescience of our prior blog post (Feb. 26) that described the role of Mary Magdalene in the Passion narrative, for we have strongly identified with her part in the unfolding story. As we sit by the bedside of our granddaughter we have really been living the role of Mary Magdalene: waiting, watching and praying as our loved one suffers. We are striving to maintain a deep witness presence so that we may open our hearts to the darkness and suffering of the world, serve as mediators between the spiritual and the earthly realms, and aid the transformation of this darkness through Love.
In such devastating conditions of life as our current situation, we have found that it doesn’t really matter how our minds explain the “why” of it. The question “How is it that such a horrific tragedy can happen to our beautiful, loving grandchildren?” seems somehow superfluous. For us, the great blessing that we find in our Christian tradition is the story of Christ’s life and the opportunity we have to follow him through all the stages of life’s journey. In the darkest depth of our human experience we can turn to Christ who has suffered the deepest agonies of the human being, crucified on the Cross of this earthly life, and know that God participates in our suffering. We can turn to Mary who has suffered the deepest pain of watching her beloved child die a horrible, seemingly senseless death, and know that the divine Mother suffers with us in all of the cruelties and pain of our own lives. We do not know the answers to the questions of evil and suffering, but we do know that God is present, we feel divine Light and Love surrounding and flowing through us, and we know that no matter what happens, ultimately “All will be well” as Julian of Norwich reminds us.
This was the deepest realization of our experience of Easter Sunday this year, which was very different from any that we have experienced before. What is usually a glorious, ecstatic joy that “Christ has risen!” after the Lenten experience of darkness and purification, was overshadowed by the sorrow and grief that we are still experiencing – the feeling experience of Good Friday and Holy Saturday spilling over into Resurrection Sunday. This required us to consciously “hold the tension of the opposites,” to hold the sorrow and the joy together as one. Even as the darkness in our life continues, we experience the peace that comes from knowing the truth of the resurrection: Christ lives, and we are never alone.
Once again, we are actually continuing to live the story of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples after Christ’s resurrection. They were still living in fear, confusion, and grief as they endured the state of “not knowing” in their earthly lives. But through the various resurrection experiences they did know that Christ continues to live, his Spirit always with them, and in this way they were able to “hold the tension of the opposites” in love and faith. We are still living the Passion experience. This is always true because the Passion story expresses the authentic truth of our human condition that we all live to one degree or another as we experience suffering in this earthly realm.
It seems to us that our family’s personal tragedy is a fractal image of the darkness and destruction that is erupting throughout our world. It all interrelates: our personal lives are a microcosm of the collective macrocosm. Our response needs to be the same to both: “hold the post,” as Cynthia Bourgeault so clearly tells us, do the spiritual work of releasing the egoic barriers so that we may join the “Dance of Love,” even as our personal and collective world seem to fall apart all around us. Our prayers for the healing of those we love and our prayers for the healing of the World Soul are one prayer. The most difficult realization of all is that we are also one with the person who attacked our grandchildren. This is very hard to accept, but if we truly believe in the unitive vision, it is so. We pray also for the transformation of his soul through the Light of Love as we humbly pray for the opening of our hearts that they will be spacious enough to forgive and thus aid the transformation of hatred through Love.
Since our experience at Wisdom School, our life has brought us the raw material to realize the truth of the teachings that we learned about the “dynamic relational field” – the exchange of human and divine energies – that is more poetically expressed as the “Dance of Love.” For even in our confrontation with the darkness of the human condition, our deepest experience has been the abundance of Love that overflows through so many, friends and strangers, and the source of that Love: the Divine Mercy. We have experienced the Loving Light that flows through and all about us and we know that love and pain are held as one within it. Love flows through all suffering, and all suffering is held within the dynamic relational field of Love. There is no separation between our personal suffering and the collective suffering of the human race: we are all one, united in our suffering and the embrace of Love.
This wisdom teaching so eloquently expressed by Cynthia Bourgeault has become our essential truth: we cannot eliminate the condition of brokenness in this world but if we stay open, not clinging, something will emerge with the “fragrance of Eucharistic love” – the tender, poignant, compassionate maternal dimension of the Divine. This hallows the conditions of earthly life, and we can enter the space where our hearts are broken knowing that our burden has been lifted. These wisdom teachings and our current life experience have brought us to the practice of simple presence: standing upright, aligned to the vertical dimension of divine Light and Love, and opening our heart to the horrors and suffering as well as the joys and beauty of life. Through the spaciousness of hearts that are broken open, something new arises that allows us to know that “our burden has been lifted.” This is the source of our faith that, whatever the outcome in our earthly realm, ultimately “All will be well” in the flow of divine Love.
Now is the time to loosen, cast away The useless weight of everything but love.
Quotations by Malcolm Guite may be found in Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, “The Stations of the Cross,” pp. 38, 41.