Some of us have gotten the message that if we cannot [handle the dark emotions and move on], we may not have enough faith in God. If we had enough, we would be able to banish the dark angels from our beds, replacing them with the light angels of belief, trust, and praise. Greenspan calls this “spiritual bypassing”—using religion to dodge dark emotions instead of letting them lead us to embrace those dark angels as the best, most demanding spiritual teachers we may ever have.” Barbara Brown Taylor
A Word of Hope
The letter that came was the trigger. It tracked a history of confusion and hurt. From the time of reading it, shame began to shadow me. In my bed at night the Dark Angel kept vigil while the condemning voices held court—charging, convicting me. There would be no clemency. I grew small before the magistrate. No voice, no defense would sway the power. The only rescuers, Grace and the voice of a friend, in the valley of the shadow, and eventually self-compassion.
In a 2012 talk, Brenee Brown tells of having the worst “vulnerability hangover” of her life after her first TEDX appearance in Houston. She had told the 500 person audience (which grew to 4 million on YouTube) that when her research led her to the conclusion that vulnerability was absolutely necessary for whole hearted living, she had a breakdown. The shame was so great that she kept to her house for 3 days. The compassionate listening of a good friend helped release the hold of this emotion which Brown calls “lethal.” But here’s the good news: it cannot survive empathy.
I am still in the midst of learning from this latest experience, but when a devotional piece writes itself in your head at night, it calls for your attention and risks being spoken. As Rumi proposes in “The Guest House”: Every day can bring joy, depression, or meanness as “unexpected visitors.” Welcome them all, he urges, and treat each as an honorable guest—“even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty.” They may be “clearing you out for some delight.” Even “the dark thought, the shame, the malice”—invite them in and “be grateful for what comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
The Orthodox Church speaks of the “bright sadness” of Lent, a phrase that resonates with the deep work of the season. A profound mingling of grief and joy, contrition and forgiveness, crucifixion and resurrection. May your own demanding spiritual teachers, guide you to the cross and into Easter light.
Take us by the hand and lead us,/ Lead us through the desert sands./ Bring us living water,/ Holy Spirit come. (Brian Wren)
Dr. Pat Saxon