Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Beautiful Dread

Photo Credit: erix! (Creative Commons)
Without dread, without the disquieting capacity to see and to repudiate the idolatry of devout ideas and imaginings, man would remain content with himself and with his "inner life" in meditation, in liturgy or in both. Without dread, the Christian cannot be delivered from the smug self-assurance of the devout ones who know all the answers in advance, who possess all the cliches of the inner life and can defend themselves with infallible ritual forms against every risk and every demand of dialogue with human need and human desperation.

Thomas MertonContemplative Prayer

There is a need for dread, for that inner disquiet and frustration and doubt and even---dare I say--despair that comes from a genuine confrontation with the darkness of this sin-saturated world. Pat answers and cliched Christian-ese cannot dispel this dread. Nor can avoidance and disregard, for that would be turning a blind eye to the reality of injustice and suffering.

Can dread ever be beautiful? Can dread lead to life? The dread of the Lord is mentioned twice in Isaiah 2 in reference to the day of Yahweh, the day when all the lofty and prideful will be brought low and the Lord alone will be exalted. Being humbled is often a painful process, one that requires toppling and staggering.

This dread, this void, this darkness--it is not the end for the children of God, only a moment in the journey towards humility and eternal life. John reminds us in his letter that perfect love drives out fear, goads the dread right out of us. But for this to occur, the dread and darkness must be confronted by the One who loves and heals.

The darkness must be exposed by the Light of the world.

In the spiritual cycles in the Psalms, this is the season of disorientation. It is a period of exile, of feeling far from home. It is important to recognize that this season is not a consequence for a lack of faith, or some sort of arbitrary punishment, but a refining of the faith we previously held, a season of loss where God is present and walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

I know that when I am experiencing the beautiful dread of being confronted with both external and internal sin, cliche Christian answers simply don't offer comfort. Instead, I desire someone to simply be with me in the pain and suffering, someone who will share my place. I want to offer that withness to others experiencing dread, just as Christ offered His own withness by entering into our dark world and shining as the Light of hope and grace.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Let's cling to that hope when we are experiencing the dread of the dark night of the soul.

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