Monday, August 12, 2013

Pondering God's Dark Speech

I have had one humdinger of a weekend, just by way of having a lot of activity and people going on around me. But in the midst of all that there was a completely different something going on spiritually, and maybe because of the hubbub on the one hand I need to go back and capture it again and put it down in words so that I don't lose it.

It seems God has a way of using "dark speech" at times. You know how when you are in conversation with someone, it might take them 10 or 15 seconds to complete a sentence? For those seconds, your brain is simply processing what is being said to you. The time is too short to ever feel it, but eight seconds into the sentence, you might not realize what the person is trying to say yet. Well it seems to me that in conversation with God, He can sometimes take about a year to get through a sentence. And during that time, all I can do is realize that He is saying something, without being able to grasp the entirety of His message just yet. I suppose that really indicates that the relationship of listening to Him has a priority, at that point, over even what it is He is saying. It keeps one stretching forward, straining a bit to make sure every word is captured. In experience, what I'm hearing seems to have all the value, but all of a sudden I see that the act of trying to listen is an exercise.

I am an auditory person. Being able to hear things is crucial to me. Huh. Ok. I see that God knows exactly how to draw each of us to Himself. It is crucial to me to "hear" what God is saying to me, so He takes His sweet and sometimes weird time so I am thoroughly focused on that, to strengthen my relationship with Him.

(This is why I have to go back and think this stuff through....)

The first experience of this dark speech, this intense moment of an invisible finger pointing furiously at a piece of God's normal liturgical speech, was last Friday on the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (aka Edith Stein), a Carmelite saint. I don't have the nifty supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours for Carmelite saints, so I was praying the Office of Readings from the Common of One Martyr. Now, there is a way that this seems to work. Praying the Scriptures normally connects us with God in His action throughout salvation history (because God never speaks in a vacuum, always to people in a context). So, in entering into this dark speech, I am already present to this God of history in this normal kind of way, and I find to some degree or another, my personal place in this greater scope of salvation history. I am part of the People of God, and I'm seeing that fact. But then I read something, usually something that bears witness to God's presence in their own life (whether St. Paul or an apostle, or the spiritual writer or saint featured in the Office of Readings), and there is this resonance, a sense, and usually specific words that have a specific meaning in my own history. It's like the proverbial "flashing neon light" that a visual person might relate to. This time, it was St. Augustine's mention of a banquet: "You are seated at a great table. Observe carefully all that is set before you, for you also must prepare such a banquet." He wrote this in the context of talking about the martyr's total self-donation.

Now, I can't go saying everything that this provoked, but two of the many things that immediately came to mind (and yes, it is possible for many, many things to come to mind all at once -- it seems that is part of the experience) were told in this post and in this one. Both of these have to do with how the image of a banquet has been present in my faith journey, and they had to do with awakening to the sense of community.

Later at Mass, the dark speech continued as I heard the readings. What was impressed upon me, remembering that this was the feast of a Carmelite saint, was that part of what is drawing me into Carmel is the prayers of generations of Carmelites before me. Community. And now I am being called, not because I am so wonderful, but because I have a call to extend the same saving grace to others. I have always had the sense that all of God's action throughout my life has been in response to someone praying for me, some unknown someones. I actually had the sense that St. Teresa Benedicta's life and death itself was intercession for me. I don't know what emotional words to put to this, but it is a profound sense of a call on my life that is absolutely about self-giving -- which is of course the opposite of self-serving. Even though I realize I don't know the fullness of what this means, I still know it is very true that becoming a Carmelite is a responsibility I have to God, a call, a vocation. This is absolutely not about how well I "like" it or what kind of warm fuzzies I get. It is about what I am called to give, to God, to the Church, to the world.

Then there were the readings at Mass on Sunday. Often I read them beforehand, but this Sunday I did not. Again, I heard the Lord speaking, darkly, about my own life. This is much harder to put into words, but again these readings harkened back to another moment of "dark speech," or a sense I had from God at a Mass almost a year ago. I had the sense at that time that the Lord was warning me of a difficulty which would come (which indeed came that very day), but that I was to do nothing about it, only to wait for the Lord to bring the resolution. But I simply have not been sure how much stock to put in that sense. And mostly I haven't been sure because I've wanted to resolve it myself. Fact is, though, I haven't been able to. I've pretty well resigned myself to St. John of the Cross's counsel to forget all about it, because if God wants to act, He certainly will; it doesn't depend on "how much faith" I put in an uncertain sense of something He may or may not have been trying to promise me. In fact, to be honest, I hate getting these kinds of "senses" precisely because I don't want to have my life hang on waiting for something to happen. I know from experience that it takes my expectation off of God.

But listening to those readings, I felt myself slowly peeled, until the gospel just about split me open. I felt the Lord saying that He had seen how I had responded, the good and the bad, that He had seen my faith and received my sacrifices, and now He was telling me to be prepared. We had the longer version of the gospel, and line and after line after line pierced me -- not in a painful way, but in a penetrating way. Then came that last line: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Again, that sense that God is extending to me a call and I am to be sober-minded and realize this is about what I am called to give. This is not about my entertainment or titillation or some kind of fun kick. In other words, we're not talking superficialities here, we're talking real giving and real joy.

In the next few weeks I need to write my letter of intent for taking the next step to receive my scapular as a secular Carmelite. I'm sure I'm not too far off to say that this is entailed in all this, but I also know the Lord speaks in many layers, and always very personally, and there is always an element of surprise that only makes sense in looking back over life, sometimes years or decades later, and it shows that God knows us far better than we know ourselves, and that there is nothing random about or accidental in our lives. He does these things with us because it is one way at least that He builds our loving, learning and trusting relationship with Him as a Master with His disciples.

Thank you Lord, for the grace of writing, and thank you especially for calling me. I renew again the fact that I make my life a signed blank check in your hands. Please help me to move with you to and through everything that you desire. My one request of you is that you would enable me not to be a disappointment to you.

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