I Just Don't Feel It
The other day, after a personal period of general happiness and well-being even despite the lunacy the country is throwing itself into and the decline of human quality of life worldwide, I was thrown off course by a combination of things, to be sure, but prompted by an angry yet necessary “venting” session from my mom. I felt guilty, felt badly, felt disappointed in myself due to some of what she said, though none of her words were directed at me. This came on the heels of a Summer full of independence but also self-doubt, fear, and anxiety. I have now been jobless for over two months, and while I acknowledge that this period has led to me taking on some new projects and challenges (joining a political campaign team, starting my own blog, and the like), it has also provided its cons too. I have been searching for meaning, continuing to experience loneliness as romantic interests come and go as quickly as the wind blows, and trying to find a purpose for what I am doing in my life. That is prompted further by my struggles with OCD and GAD (general anxiety disorder) which are awful bedfellows that often make mountains from molehills and can make you think the sky is falling if you are in the wrong mindset. Life, while not miserable, certainly isn’t easy, and being a very sensitive person, a lot of things that most people would let roll off of their back don’t do that for me, they prefer to stick somewhere in my jumbled-up brain or fragile heart, where they fester and drain my very being if I let them. I have taken a lot of proactive steps to deal with these things lately, from getting back into counseling/therapy, to constant prayer, and becoming part of a young men’s Christian Bible study & media platform group. All of these things certainly help to keep me on track and provide relief for the veritable crosses that I bear, but the root causes lie deep in my nature and personal history, and I haven’t been able to dig them up quite yet. So later in that same day, as I was swirling down the drainpipe of misery, depression and fear, I did something that I try to do when I am facing odds and circumstances that seem to be relentless and out of my control; I turned to Scripture. Using an app I have on my phone named Laudate, which literally translates to “Praise”, I looked up the daily Bible readings for the day and upon reading them, nearly shed tears at how pertinent and encouraging they were.
The first reading, one of my favorite Scriptures from the entirety of the Bible, was from the Book of Kings. It described the time that God instructed Elijah to stand on Mt. Horeb in preparation of His passing. At first a great storm came by, but Elijah knew God was not in the storm. Then there was a tremendous wind, followed by a huge earthquake, and then a raging fire. Elijah did not feel God in any of these things. But after the fire, "…there was a tiny whispering sound…” and at this, Elijah left the cave he was seeking shelter in to find the Lord God in that tiny whisper. This passage struck right at my heart, as I felt very much in the midst of a storm. When things go badly for me, I tend to “pile on”, and all negativity, past and present, global and personal, seems to find its way to my door, and waltzes right in to wreak havoc in my mind. It can be very much like a great storm and wind, huge earthquake and raging fire all at once. But amidst all of this, I sought out Scripture, something compelled me to, some small whisper of God telling me to seek Him, and so I did. It was a beautiful moment. How often in the midst of the storm and all of life’s noise and distractions can we hear this whisper? Not often, I would guess (at least I know that is the case for me). But when we can and do hear that whisper, when we seek that whisper out, we will find God, amidst it all.
The Gospel passage, perhaps my all-time favorite from the Bible, is the tale of Jesus walking on the water towards the Apostles who are battling the stormy sea in their boat, fearing for their lives. This is not the first instance of this group battling a stormy sea and being afraid. Previously though, Jesus was there in the boat with them, and upon their imploring him to help, he simply instructed the sea to “be quiet”, and so the storm left. It was not a booming command or a summoning of angels that literally turned the tide here, rather, the simple and calm command from the One who has command over all. So in the next instance where the storm is raging and Jesus is off praying on the mountain, but then approaches His brothers struggling to stay afloat, He simply commands Peter to “Come”, after telling them all who He is and to not be afraid. Jesus constantly vocalizes a message of peace to His disciples, to the Apostles in particular, and tells them to not be afraid. This may be one of His most used phrases in the whole Bible. Here we have a great comparison to the Old Testament depiction of Elijah, sheltering in place during a series of vicious natural phenomena, then being brought out of his fear and isolation by a gentle, calm urging. And so there appears Christ, walking on water calmly and confidently during a vicious storm towards His beloved followers, urging them in the same way to trust, and not be afraid, with a gentle command, “Come.” In all of time, God having remained the same, He is and always will be that gentle whisper in the storm, before, during and after it. Sometimes we hear Him call us before a major storm hits, and is it the confidence of knowing He is with us that carries us safely through it. Sometimes we don’t hear the whisper until we are in the middle of the storm, and things have gotten so bad that we have nowhere else to turn, but we put our faith and trust in Him. Sometimes, we must make it through the storms in our lives seemingly on our own, but after all has passed, the whisper falls on our ears, and we are made aware that He who is the gentle whisper, the water-walker, the commander of all things was there the whole time, and always will be.
I got to thinking then, how my instance of hearing that gentle, little whisper of His that urged me to look to Scripture as my veritable ship was sinking, was comparable to the parable of the widow’s mite. This famous allegory used by Christ to explain the richness of the poor who give from their necessity and not the rich who give from their abundance I think is meant to speak to far more than just material wealth and poverty and what we can do with our resources. I believe it also speaks to spiritual wealth and poverty, and how even when we feel we may have so little to give to God, if we are giving from our heart and out of what little we have, the reward is great in Heaven and it is all the more recognized by God. If you think of the context of Christ’s day and age, an old widow certainly did not have much prestige or power, and with her husband gone, not much wealth either, presumably. So society at the day most likely saw her as insignificant and like a child (who Christ always refers to as inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven for their purity and simplicity), generally ignored in “important” matters. Yet in the story Christ tells us that the widow is the exalted one not only due to her generosity but also, undoubtedly though not explicitly stated, due to her humility and unwavering faith even when she had so little positivity in her life. In short, her faith set her apart from the other givers, amongst other factors, and her willingness to still commune with God and give Him all she had despite her reasons for she should not. In my brief experiences with periods of emotional or spiritual darkness, feeling as if I am alone in a boat being swamped by storm-tides and wondering when I will sink, I have to say that I haven’t always looked to God first, but I have always found my way through the storm and the darkness to Him, and have always found Him waiting for me on the shore, or right in the stormy waters themselves. This joyous finding of Christ often requires the stormy waters themselves, I am learning, and a “dark night” as St. John of the Cross described. After going through a recent period of this pain, a dear friend told me bluntly about how much St. Mother Teresa had struggled in her walk with Christ. I had known saints to suffer from mental illness, plenty to be abused and even killed, and face very real and profound human struggles, but never had I heard of perhaps the greatest modern saint’s troubles. This woman who appeared a mother and grandmother to all, with a smile always on her face, had lengthy “dark nights” and plenty of stormy waters throughout her days. In one letter to a spiritual director she penned, “I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” These profound words of intense suffering marked the more private life of one of the greatest modern saints. So who am I to want to throw everything away, to contemplate ending my life, to not see the light at the end of the long dark tunnel, when it is in fact these sufferings that often bring me closest to Christ? Who am I to want to submit to evil and darkness and despair, when so many have gone before me (including Christ himself) being faced with these temptations and challenges, but came out triumphant on the other side? The homily this morning at mass was brief but poignant, and the pastor of my parish spoke to knowing that Christ is with us always through the storms and joys alike. He said how he gives us a model to facing adversity but also is always found in our adversity, and experienced plenty of that in His own life. Jesus was received genuinely and lovingly only be a devout few, but was generally ignored, written off as a lunatic, and persecuted by the rest of society at that time. Did He give up? No. Did he contemplate it at least once? Yes. “Father, if it be your Will, take this cup from me...”
So just who is this loving Divinity that comes to us in whispers, calls us to walk on water with Him, and praises the widow over the wealthy? Who is this voice that calms the raging seas, makes the lepers clean, opens the eyes of the blind, ears of the deaf, and tongues of the mute? Who is this Lord who resists satan’s temptations, drives out demons, and resurrected from- and thus conquered- death itself? This is Jesus. This is the God of Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Elijah, and David. This is the Alpha and the Omega, first and the last, beginning and the end. And He is with us always! What a profound and joyous truth. The truth. And as for our sufferings, St. Mother Teresa has profound words to help explain those as well, that literally made my jaw drop:
“‘In you, today, he wants to relive his complete submission to his Father,’ she wrote in 1974 to a priest suffering his own spiritual blackness. ‘It does not matter what you feel, but what he feels in you . . . You and I must let him live in us and through us in the world.’”
“In Mother Teresa’s dark night, we can hear all the anguish of her century — the desolation of the poor, the cries of the unwanted children, of the atheist, of all those who can’t murmur a prayer or feel to love anymore. It was as if in some way she was bearing their sufferings. And in this she seemed in some way to be sharing too in the sufferings of Christ.”
St. Paul wrote much about rejoicing in our weaknesses, as those are what brings us closer to Christ and allows Him to be even stronger for us and in us. He said that we need not be ashamed of these weaknesses, but to rejoice in them, bear them gladly and humbly, and know that Christ is working in them and through them. Having read Teresa’s words, I am now humbled and joyously grateful knowing that Christ has allowed me to feel His sufferings and relive His Passion in some ways, albeit small and infrequent. It matters not what I feel, but what Christ feels through me. During a time of great anxiety and tumult in our country and our world, Christ was and is using me as a vessel to feel the anguish and fear of His people. But if He is with me, so too He is with all of us. We need not be afraid, we must simply find a way to hear His gentle whisper amidst all of this chaos and darkness; “Come.”