Here’s something cheerful for Lent:
“In despair, despair not. Let yourself accept everything; in reality it is only an acceptance of the finite and the futile. Make yourself block up every exit; only the exits to the finite, the paths that lead to what is really trackless, will be dammed up. Do not be frightened over the loneliness and abandonment of your interior dungeon, which seems to be so dead — like a grave. For if you stand firm, if you do not run from despair, if in despair over the idols which up to now you called God you do not despair in the true God, if you thus stand firm — this is already a wonder of grace — then you will suddenly perceive that your grave-dungeon only blocks the futile finiteness; you will become aware that your deadly void is only the breadth of God’s intimacy, that the silence is filled up by a word without words, by the one who is above all name and is all in all. That silence is God’s silence. It tells you that he is there.
That is the second thing you should do in your despair: notice that God is there. Know with faith that he is with you. Perceive that for a long time now he has been waiting for you in the deepest dungeon of your blocked-up heart, and that for a long time he has been quietly listening to you, even though you, after all the busy noise that we call our life, do not even let him get a word in edgewise, and his words to the man-you-were-until-now seem only deadly silence. You shall see that you by no means make a mistake if you give up your anxiety over yourself and your life, that you by no means make a mistake if you relax your hold on self, that you are by no means crushed with despair if once and for all you despair of yourself, of your wisdom and strength, and of the false image of God that is snatched away from you.
As if by a miracle, which must be renewed every day, you will perceive that you are with him. You will suddenly experience that your God-distance is in truth only the disappearance of the world before the dawning of God in your soul, and that the darkness is nothing but God’s brightness, that throws no shadow, and your lack of outlets is only the immeasurability of God, to whom no road is needed, because he is already there. You shall see that you should not try to run away from your empty heart, because he is already there, and so there can be no reason for you to flee from this blessed despair into a consolation that does not exist.
If we do this, then peace comes all by itself. Peace is the most genuine activity: the silence that is filled with God’s word, the trust that is no longer afraid, the sureness that no longer needs to be assured, and the strength that is powerful in weakness — it is, then, the life that rises through death. There is nothing more in us then but God; God and the almost imperceptible and yet all-filling faith that he is there, and that we are.”
—Karl Rahner, The Eternal Year, trans. John Shea (Burns & Oates).
8 Replies to “BLESSED DESPAIR”
I enjoyed your article and pictures as usual but hey! nice new layout.
Heather this beautiful quote from Rahner is not just 'cheerful' it is sp profound and answers all my deepest fears. ! It deserves a wider readership. Enjoy !
This is was so profound and so timely. The dark night of the soul is upon me and this encourages me to stay in the dark and look for the face of Our Heavenly Father, while despairing of all my own efforts to avoid the pit, which have failed.
there can be no reason for you to flee from this blessed despair into a consolation that does not exist.
I think learning that it does not exist is half the battle. "Master to whom shall we go?" There's nowhere else to go.
Well, I just never fail to be inspired by what I read here! I was in a state close to … that word … despair – once. No not once – many, many times. I found Thomas Moore's book, Dark Night of the Soul, very helpful.
Though I could not agree with all of his conclusions, Moore's book had gems that helped me accept the process and sift it for its gold. He referred to Jonah in the Whale's belly as a metaphor for our experience of deepest gloom (as a bit of a fundamentalist, I think it may have been more than just a metaphor, but that it is a metaphor, too, thrills me, in this case).
Jonah was deep inside the whale in total darkness, but moving nonetheless, as the whale moved through the sea. In the same way we move forward too, unbeknownst to us, when we're in that place of anguish or pain. Thomas Moore criticises the secular obsession with getting well as fast as possible and says we ought to make more of these dark night experiences; sift them, he says, for their gold. I was given a whole new perspective. Instead of hurrying to feel better, I came to accept that God was working and changing something deep inside, and pain had to be, until he saw fit to change it. That's what i knew intellectually. Daily life was still hell (or hellish – I suppose the real hell is worse). But it had a some flicker of meaning. I recommend his book!
I love writings which see us as pretty much nothing and no-one without God – it gives me a great sense of security, in a way, to know that I'm a wretch, because it takes the pressure off. I identify, in many ways, with Heather's over conscientiousness and the great demands she places on herself (oh, I'm also talking to you, of course Heather – not just about you). People who do this, i think, are happy to know that really it all comes back to God – not to us. I wish more people would understand the value of feeling very very down – sift it for its gold, and not expend all their energy trying to clamber out of that place as fast as possible!!
Thank you, Jane. You added a helpful bit of wisdom to an already inspiring article.
I was having a bad day and a hard time and stumbled across your blog… Thank you. It's funny, I wrote my my prayer to god, typing it randomly and hit enter to go to the next line – turns out I was writing it not on word but the address block – Google suggested your site. Luck or Fate, what I read renewed my faith, so I'm calling it fate and God.
Random prayers to God are typically re-routed to my blog, confirming that He, too, likes a laugh…glad you found your way here!