The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
(Mary Oliver, from Thirst, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006)
On a Sunday when the Gospel sends us to find Jesus in the desert, Oliver’s poem seems apt. Coming across it reminded me of the line from Isaiah that reads “I will give you treasures out of the darkness”. It takes years indeed, it seems to me, to discover the gifts in darkness, sorrow, temptation.
I like very much the view of a few who have reflected that part of the experience of Jesus’ temptation in the desert was discovering what being God’s Beloved (as he was named at the Baptism) was not. It was not to always be fed and full. It was not to have power and control. It was not to be rescued. For us as well. We are Beloved – but we are sometimes/often empty and yearning. We are Beloved – but our experience and fact is often of being poor in power to control events or people or even ourselves. We are Beloved – but that does not mean we are rescued from every harm. But we are God’s Beloved Ones, right along with Jesus, and these things do not make that Belovedness somehow less.
Who are we to measure love so meagerly, or not to unwrap the gifts we are given in deserts and darkness?
It’s in the desert that we are “allured” by God (Hosea 2) and where distractions are less and we might hear and respond.
It is in the darkness that we may discover where light (Light) comes from; where we may find ourselves too in solidarity with other dark-traveling journeyers, and offer and receive the support of pilgrim companions. There we are not over others, or under them – but we find ourselves side by side in need of way-walkers we link arms with and hope as we go step by step. We may find, surprisingly, new strength from walking this way, and learn to differently see and value and love and relate.
It is in the temptations perhaps that we learn the art of listening for the homing signals that say ‘this is off target, this is on’, ‘beware’, ‘this is plastic, this is gold’. It may be there we discover (again from Isaiah) that the Teacher is behind us saying “This is the way, walk in it, when you would go to the left and to the right”: and we know he’s right because we know what was the wrong way.
A friend today posted a line she heard at Mass on temptation: “Our temptation is often that of forgetfulness… forgetfulness of how much God loves each of us. When we try to remember that amazing truth, we will be home again in the arms of Christ.” I love it. My only edit is with the last line: “we will know again that we are home in the arms of Christ”. We’re already there, but as noted, we forget. Our darkness, deserts and temptations make it hard to see.
But let’s practice what we believe – literally. Practice by focusing on what we know to be true – such love – whether or not we have sand in all the wrong places, we can’t see well, or we’re off kilter with confusing messages or off-center longings or attachments. If we just live and love from here, knowing we are in the arms of God in Christ… whatever our circumstances… we will find ourselves “coming out of the desert, leaning on [her] lover” (Song of Songs). We will learn the uses of sorrow, darkness, desert, temptation – and perhaps be more clear on who and whose we are in our everyday.
Blessings on you as you receive whatever gift this day and Lenten season brings.
* Lent D5 – Day 5