When I lived in New York City in my late twenties, I experienced something that can only be categorized as the dark night of the soul. I was engaged in an intense form of experiential therapy that brought up a level of existential pain so deep I thought I’d sink in quick sand and never surface again. That I endured it without drugs, acting out, or a hospitalization of some sort or other, is a true miracle of God and maybe a sign that I’m actually pretty resilient and strong. But it was pretty rough.
As we know with war veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder often manifests itself with hyper-vigilance and hyper-sensitivity. Trauma survivors can be highly sensitive to noise, crowds and sensory overload. During this period when I was raw from my own trauma healing, my nerves often couldn’t take the insanity that is NYC – cars honking, people shoving and crowding in the subway and pedestrians moving as fast as marathon runners on the sidewalks. To save myself from having meltdowns in the middle of the big apple, churches became a refuge for in NYC, churches stay open throughout the day instead of locking up when services aren’t being held. There were a few particularly beautiful churches on the upper west side that I would pop into. There I would sit quietly in a pew while I watched people pray, walk the stations of the cross and light candles. It was deeply healing and sometimes I would cry.
At the time, I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ so I would stare up at the cross and ponder what I knew of him from childhood Catechism. I had never understood the crucifixion, but suddenly, at that particular juncture in my life, I had an idea. I was at a point when I faced the realization that life hadn’t dealt me the best cards. They’d dealt me some very good ones; but some crummy ones too. And yet I felt life calling me to surrender and love despite what I didn’t get and what I couldn’t have. I was being asked to take up a cross. To suffer and somehow find a smile. I instinctually knew that if my bitterness congealed to hatred (which it was slowly moving towards), my heart would petrify and I would become as lonely, lost and ugly as the Wicked Witch of the West. I also knew that if I really loved the person my heart loved, I had to love unconditionally – love and not expect anything in return. Let someone else have the person I loved most dearly in the world. Somehow with a smile on my face; with grace through my tears. And somehow that was the first time I began to think and become curious about Jesus. Because Jesus suffered and didn’t retaliate. Didn’t rage. But loved more deeply. A love that was profound.
That I have darkness within me to the depth that I do mind boggles me sometimes given that I was a “good girl” child. And to this day, have far more good in me than bad. But the “good girl” was a mask; a parental expectation and a childhood eagerness to please. Underneath that, is deep hurt, rage and woundedness. A hurt animal primed to lash out and snarl. Because I know that place in myself intimately, it allows me to work with others who have it too. People often far more damaged and under spiritual attack than I can fathom. Most days, I don’t feel this place within myself. I have a pretty bright spirit and disposition but when I do, it’s bad.
So in this season of light and dark – it would make sense that I’m suddenly acutely aware of both. Cycling through the dark- and then just when I think I can’t take it anymore, I feel God as the only Light and presence who can redeem me.
When I look out at the night and see Christmas lights, I am reminded that the woman in darkness has seen a Great Light. Seen a great light.