“LOOK LOWER” Grace in Affliction with Weil & Nightbirde – Brad Jersak
How do we experience God in the midst of affliction? Where is the light during the “dark night of the soul?” Where do we stand (or kneel) as we wait for a dawn that seems so slow to come, if it ever will?
Those who experience chronic physical, emotional, or spiritual pain know the temptation of despair and may feel like they’re drowning in it. When religious rituals, spiritual practices, or affirming deconstruction makes breathing no easier, where do we go? Where is God? “When you can’t see him, look lower” (Nightbirde).
PINCERS: Simone Weil
According to Simone Weil, the French philosopher-mystic, among the greatest of human dilemmas is our wrestle to hold together the goodness of God and the affliction of humanity. Tragically, we typically try to harmonize them with rationalizations and, like Job’s friends, end up calling what is evil “good” or what is good “evil.”
Rather, she says, we need to let the contradiction stand. “It is what it is” isn’t a shrug of the shoulder but acceptance of reality. Sh*t happens. But does this mean we can no longer see or say that God is good? Weil saw a great gulf or infinite distance separating divine goodness and human affliction …. and that these two contraries grab us like pincers and arrest us and even throw us down … but where? Into an abyss. All Nietzsche saw in that abyss was darkness. It drove him mad.
But Weil counsels us to go lower. All the way to the bottom. And from there, she looked up and found herself at the foot of the Cross. She saw perfect Love hanging there, his open arms spread, spanning the distance. … she saw God’s infinite goodness in the crucified One, and she saw all the afflictions of the human race weighing down on that One, crushing him. In him, the contraries of goodness and affliction intersect, including yours, and they pass through his heart.
Then, from Christ’s wounds flows healing love such that even while our suffering continues, by faith, we can authentically confess, “God is good.” How? Because he bears our afflictions with us. The Cross represents the radical empathy of God, which is the highest form of love. Waiting there, who knows for how long, those with open and upturned hands may receive a gift. Hope, perhaps? Or trust? A glimpse that sustains?
NIGHTBIRDE: “Look Lower”
This is not a rational solution. I am only describing an experience. My experience. Maybe it can be yours. If you look lower. Or if we give up our rationalizing and open ourselves to Mystery. For that, I regularly need help. This week, help came via a precious living saint who calls herself Nightbirde. I have two gifts for you from her: a video and an article. I hope you’ll find her words as cleansing to the soul as I did:
Beauty. Tears. Joy.
Jane’s cancer continues. Her abyss goes deeper. Where is God when you’re on the bathroom floor? In her words…
- I don’t remember most of Autumn, because I lost my mind late in the summer and for a long time after that, I wasn’t in my body. I was a lightbulb buzzing somewhere far…
- I am God’s downstairs neighbor, banging on the ceiling with a broomstick. I show up at His door every day. Sometimes with songs, sometimes with curses. Sometimes apologies, gifts, questions, demands. Sometimes I use my key under the mat to let myself in. Other times, I sulk outside until He opens the door to me Himself.
- I have called Him a cheat and a liar, and I meant it. I have told Him I wanted to die, and I meant it. Tears have become the only prayer I know. Prayers roll over my nostrils and drip down my forearms. They fall to the ground as I reach for Him. These are the prayers I repeat night and day; sunrise, sunset…