“Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,’ some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it; or to state it in our language here, you will and you must ‘lose’ at something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey. I wish I could say this was no true, but it is darn near absolute in the spiritual literature of the world.”– Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
Recently, Richard Rohr has been a blessed companion on my walk with Jesus and my journey onwards towards Emmaus. Most, if not all, of Rohr’s ideas and issues raised in his various books have struck numerous chords in my heart. As of now, I’ve read “Falling Upwards”, “Immortal Diamond” and “Breathing Underwater” and all three books were so enlightening and filled with wisdom.
Written with Truth and Love, some of Rohr’s key ideas and comments left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. However, I also recognised that this personal discomfort almost always reflected an important lesson necessary for my growth. More specifically, whenever Rohr talked about “letting-go” and issues concerning “healthy detachment” and “holy indifference”, I found myself often re-reading the paragraphs over and over again, gradually allowing his words to function as a lens to (re)view some of the wounds that have been festering in my life lately. In particular, Rohr’s analysis and in-depth discussion of the True-Self / False-Self dichotomy gave me the much needed vocabulary to articulate, reflect and mentally gnaw on some of the issues that I’ve been struggling personally: issues concerning self-acceptance and self-love.
How Rohr became a large part of my walk with Jesus lately was quite coincidental actually. (Then again, nothing is really coincidental with God right? Perhaps a more accurate term to encapsulate this serendipitous finding of Rohr would be a god-incidental moment. Heh.) I remembered stumbling upon Richard Rohr’s books after a prolonged period of deep desolation, soul-searching, intense internal battles and conversations with Priests and my Spiritual Director. Initially, I wanted to refer to some of Ronald Rolheiser’s works but the klutz in me accidentally downloaded Richard Rohr’s books on my Kindle instead. (It doesn’t help that both authors’ names begin with two “R”s. Heh.)
Nonetheless, what was initially a careless act on my part turned out to be a grace-filled moment. To risk sounding a tad dramatic, I must say that Rohr’s words spoke to the depths of my heart and resonated deeply within my soul. I lapped his words and ideas ravenously and by God’s amazing grace, I soon gained greater clarity and assurance with my inner struggles and desolated predicament. Slowly but surely, I regained inner peace.
Through this experience, I am reminded by God time and time again that I often know a lot about things (head-knowledge) but I haven’t really experienced and/or truly know these things with my heart (wisdom). A case in point would be my recent (and prolonged) experience with spiritual drought. Never have I felt so spiritually dry, lethargic and far away from God and salvation. I vividly remember writing in my diary that “my entire being was giving God a metaphorical middle finger.” I recalled feeling so fed-up with Catholicism and really, with being Catholic. My entire identity as a child of God was challenged and my Christian foundations were shaken gravely. In short, I was undergoing a classic case of serious desolation.
Yet, haven’t I experienced this before? Didn’t I see this coming? Don’t I already know what to do during bouts of desolation from the copious amounts of Ignatian Literature that I’ve read concerning Discernment of Spirits? Interestingly, then, though I knew what I had to do, I came to the gradual realisation that I was utterly helpless; I did not have control of this situation. I could not control this wave of intense spiritual warfare. And this relinquishment of control led to an intensification of fear and with fear, doubt. I began to doubt God. I began to doubt His love, grace and mercy. I began to doubt that I was a child of God, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). I began to doubt myself.
Little did I know that this season of desolation was a very important learning lesson of self-actualisation for me. Indeed, I have come to acknowledge that I cannot control bouts of desolation in my spirituality. Though I might be able to see the signs and know that I’m falling into desolation, I now know that there are integral lessons to be learnt from such dark periods of life.
Then again, isn’t this an archetypal (albeit micro) example of how God works in our lives? It seems to me that He really does “write straight with crooked lines” and even uses our limitations and failings for His greater glory. After all, Paul was spot-on when he mentioned that “for when I am weak, then I am strong” for “His strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Indeed, God is never wasteful and even moments of deep anguish, despair and doubt can be used for goodness, for His greater glory. I now see that times of desolation teach me so much about my false-self. And all the discomfort, annoyance, anger and resentment that are manifested especially during times of desolation are just areas of my false-self being chipped away by the master-carpenter.
Really, then, it is my ego, my unhealthy and inordinate attachments — my false-self — that are surfaced during periods of desolation only so that I can be better acquainted with my true-self, the self that God made me to be. That being said, (and as Rohr aptly reiterates in his various books), false-selfs are not necessarily bad or evil. (Rohr argues that false-selfs are actually necessary for the development of any individual in our world today.) Yet, there comes a point in one’s life when the false-self becomes a crutch to one’s path of discipleship, wholeness and holiness. There comes a moment in one’s life when the false-self proves to be a hinderance. Little wonder, then, does the idea of “renouncing” and “denying” the (false) self becomes so apparent and so frequently mentioned in the Bible.
In the final analysis, I am reminded that God’s grace is sufficient. His love is bountiful, illogical and lavish; His mercy, endless. At the end of the day, it is really His grace that carried me through the trails and tribulations of my life and it is His grace that continues to carry me through daily. It is His grace that I am alive. It is His grace that I am writing this. It is His grace that compels and propels my heart and soul to live my life for Him, to glorify His name and to continue to strive to bring others to Him. It has been and will always be His amazing grace.
So praise God for moments of darkness and desolation; praise God for the “stumbling stone”. For truly, it is in such trying moments that I am chiseled, reborn and made anew by His grace. Such periods are beautiful opportunities to shed my false-self and be led to the very edge of my capacities — to recognise that I am nothing without God. Indeed, a resurrection could not have been possible without a passion-filled crucifixion; Easter would not exist without Good Friday.
Living and dying, acquiring and letting-go, attachment and detachment, learning and unlearning, doing and being — such it seems, encapsulates the ebb and flow of Spirituality.