Last June I started working with a counselor because I was finally ready to face and move toward recovery from patterns of disordered eating that have followed me most of my adult life. This past December I sat in her office with Kleenex pressed to my eyes, wishing against reason that this action would stem the tide of tears, as I commented that this was the worst I had felt since beginning this work six months ago. I was mourning what this behavior has cost me in the past, feeling depressed in the present, and unable to see a hopeful future. From a psychological perspective, it was rock bottom.
A few weeks later, I started reading a book by Maria Harris, a Catholic lay woman and theologian, entitled Dance of the Spirit: The Seven Steps of Women’s Spirituality. According to Harris, the first step of a woman’s spiritual dance is awakening. She writes, “Spiritual Awakening is the capacity to start connecting with those aspects of ourselves that although real remain hidden—mystery, and love, and sorrow, and dreams of wholeness—those that make us truly us” (page 4). Her idea of spiritual awakening sure sounded a lot like the work I had been doing in counseling to better understand my own behavior, to better attend to my own feelings, and to better express my own truth… and yet her positive depiction of awakening seemed in such stark contrast to the darkness and gloom I had been experiencing.
Only a few paragraphs later, I discovered why her image of awakening was so much more hopeful than I had been feeling: “Something has made us alert and kindled our sensitivity to and awareness of the deep places, the quiet places, the hidden places. Something has called us to follow the hunch that now is the time to allow the light into these places, to be willing to look at the shadows, too, and to become comfortable with both” (page 5). In the Christian tradition, this something is God. God lures us toward a recognition of our full and true selves because God already knows, accepts, and loves this full and true self and wants us to know, accept, and love it, too.
Being able to see that God had been with me on this journey of self-discovery and, more importantly, that God had called me to it and was the condition that made it possible did not take away all the pain. But it did help me to understand the rock bottom moment not only as a negative, sorrowful step in my spiritual dance but also as a great grace because it is from this crisis point that new possibilities will be born.
In the first reading for this Sunday from Isaiah, we read this line that is then echoed in the Gospel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Certainly, this verse has a corporate tone, proclaiming the way in which knowing Yahweh has made a difference for the Israelites. But given my recent experience, I cannot help but hear it speaking directly to me. What I initially experienced as a moment of great darkness became a moment of light once I was able to see God’s hand in it. I had been dwelling in the land of gloom, but now I trust a little better that there is a light at the end of the tunnel toward which God is guiding me. This does not mean that there will not be anguish along the road, but rather that this anguish will be tempered by a sense that God is there, loving me toward a future I cannot yet envision but wait for with expectant hope.