Notes from Manresa, prt. 5

My spiritual journey
Epoch 1 – Awakening (Birth): 0-6 years
Epoch 2 – Striving I: 6 years-22 years
Epoch 3 – Cleansing: 22 years-25 years
Epoch 4 – Striving II: 25 years-41 years
Epoch 5 – Awakening II (Rebirth): 41 years-Present

In epoch 1 I became aware of a spiritual need in my life.  At a young age, I knew there was a God and that I wanted to know him.

That led to epoch 2, Striving, which was the start of all the efforts Christians usually make to know God. Prayer, Bible study, commitment to church attendance, journaling, etc.  I did this for years with considerable intensity and a sense that it was “working” – that I was really coming to know God.  Though it had some good effects, I am embarrassed now to think about how unlovingly I was often able to treat people, while seeing that behavior as being completely consistent with my faith, since “the Bible says” this or that.

Cindy’s death in November of ’90, and my diagnosis with MS a month later, brought epoch 2 to a close.  Though I tried to hang on for a while, I began to feel like my life experience had outgrown my faith.  What I had learned didn’t make sense anymore in light of the brutality of the world that I was experiencing.  I gave up.  For about three years I identified as an agnostic.  I stopped reading the Bible, stopping going to church, stopped doing the things “good Christians” are supposed to do.  Though I used to identify this as “the falling away,” I now realize that those years were important for me because they helped me think through what I really believed.  I realized during those years that I just was not ultimately capable of living as an agnostic or atheist.  Faith ran too deep for me to be able to do that.  But I tried!  This does not mean I didn’t continue struggling with doubt.  But I left epoch 3 when I decided to take up the struggle again and begin striving once more.

And striving it was.  When I reengaged actively with my faith in epoch 4, I naturally took up all the means of knowing God that I had previously tried and then dropped.  Only now it wasn’t “working” for me.  So I tried harder.  The harder I tried, the more discouraged I became.  So I’d give up for long periods – months at a time.  It just took too much energy.  The striving that I had previously done willingly and that had been fulfilling was now a huge burden that I not only could not do anymore, but that I finally realized recently I don’t even really WANT to do anymore.  In short, that way of knowing  God was not actually helping me know God.  Instead, it was helping me know guilt, self-criticism, frustration, failure, and loneliness.  Over the past 16 years I have rarely been able to find God in the mix.  My ministry was oftentimes a ministry of what I knew and deeply believed to be true for others, but struggled to actualize in my own life.  I could not accept God’s love, God’s grace, or the mystery and suffering of life.

Period 5.  In the past year, this has come to a head.  It took many years to move from, “I can’t seem to ‘get back’ to where I used to be ‘with God’” to “I don’t even want to go back to the way things used to be.  I don’t know how to know God in that way.”  And so I have been in a new period of awakening.  If I called the first one birth, this one could only be called rebirth.

Fr. Tom gave me a book to look over that described St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul.”  The dark night is a time of intense spiritual dryness that is experienced as a separation from God, but during which a person is actually brought to the end of him/herself in preparation for the beginning of a new, deeper, and more vital union with God. The dark night is characterized by three things:

a. Dryness and impotence in prayer/life
b. Lack of desire for the old ways
c. Simple desire to love God

I realized this is where I have been.  This, for me, has been epoch 4.  I have spent nearly 16 years in the dark night.  I am on this retreat having just begun to emerge from it into this simple desire to love God and to know him, not just in my head but daily – moment by moment.

Question: How do I live in love when the world presses in?  How does one learn to remain in the place of love and not be thrust again into ego, into striving, into one’s own insufficient efforts to “fix things,” born out of one’s own brokenness and desperation?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Jan

    I enjoy reading all of your posts, but I am especially enjoying these. It feels like I am on this journey with you. As Holly stated “I feel privledged”. I once read “It is easier to DO than to BE” & I find that I struggle with that. I really related to your initial struggle with having no TV, wanting to go home, etc. “Be still & know that I am God” is a great verse…but for me, much harder to put into practice. I have to recite it to myself many times daily. My sincere thanks for helping me know it’s a human condition & not just my own personal dysfunction.

    • Thanks Jan. I guess that’s the reason I am posting these. As a pastor, I’m in that group of people where the general expectation is that we have “arrived” in some sense. I want to make sure people know that every one of us who is seeking God is doing just that — seeking — part of which always involves struggling and suffering, as well as experiences of joy.

  • Scott

    as i read this post it stuck a chord with me. all that you wrote reminds me of some of my own experiences. i went through a period of about three years where i spiralled down to the point where i really questioned my own faith. and like you, i could not abandon what i know to be true. only after this time did i find that same book. it has really helped me and is one of my favorite books.

    • “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” as they say. Those dark times prepare us for what’s next. You can’t go wrong with Manning. Thanks for reading, Scott.