by David Hicks
One of the books that we have used in the Formation 1 program is an old spiritual classic called, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, by Jean Pierre De Caussade. He talks about our tendency to miss seeing God in the places where He most longs to reveal Himself – in the ordinary and mundane, even in the places that we often think are hurting or destroying us. De Caussade says that God often comes to us, “in events that we imagine to be our ruin.” He goes on to say something that shatters most of my sacred pre-conceived notions of how God works in our lives. Sometimes, “there is no remedy for this darkness but to sink into it.”
I sometimes reflect on Psalm 40 where the psalmist is praising God for, “lifting me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.” I sometimes imagine myself in that pit desperately clutching to the sides trying to keep from falling further into the depths of what I just know is death and destruction below. I look up and cry out to God for help. I try and picture Him leaning over the edge of the pit and grabbing my arms, pulling me to safety and security and placing, “my feet on a rock”.
But maybe I have the picture wrong. Maybe it’s not so much about me waiting for God to reach down and lift me out as it is my letting go and falling into the darkness I so dread because in the darkness is where His presence is waiting for me. Maybe He is not above me, but below me, waiting for me to fall, not so much into the darkness, as into Him. “There is no remedy for this darkness but to sink into it.” Maybe the place that I most fear is the place where He most dwells.
The story is told of a man who tripped and fell off a cliff. Clutching at the grasses on the edge of the cliff he finds that he can put off his fall for a moment or two. “Is there anyone up there?” he cries out. “Yes”, came a reply, but nothing further. “Who are you? Why don’t you help me?” shouted the man. “I’m God”, said the voice, “and I will help you, but you must do exactly as I say.” “OK”, whispered the man. “What do you want me to do?” God says, “First, let go!” The man thinks for a moment and then says, “Is there anyone else up there?”
Sometimes surrender to God is not so much a movement upward (the most logical direction), but a movement downward, seemingly deeper into the darkness that we dread. Maybe God is actually present in the dark places that we fear to go in ways that are unseen, unknown to eyes that do not see “by faith”.
De Caussade says that it is in these dark places, “that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself, mysteriously bestowing his grace.” I must admit that the idea that God may actually dwell in the darkness that I most fear is a difficult one for me to grasp. But then it is my grasping that often prevents me from falling into the grace that is my soul’s deepest desire. Who would have thought that the way out might actually be down rather than up.
To me, this is one of those “leaps of faith” that I find so difficult to take. Darkness, pain, suffering, affliction are things to avoid not things to embrace. They are things to get past quickly not things to linger in, finding a deeper place of God’s presence. “Let go”, God often says. “for the place from which I will lift you up is not from above but from below, from underneath you, from those places you most dread, for even there, I AM.”
Trial and suffering fills our lives but I am coming to see them as Jacob did when he encountered God at Bethel. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” (Genesis 28:16)
David Hicks is a regular CFDM faculty member for the Formation program and a guest presenter for the Spiritual Direction program