Chronicles of Spiritual Direction: Iron Love

Two months ago I began to meet for the first time with a spiritual director. It’s an experience that has at once been very comfortable and very foreign to me. The conversations aren’t unlike those I’ve maintained for many years in serial with different friendships, yet the language and the questions that I have fed back to me are challenging and fruitful in making the familiar strange to me — where Gød is in a particular experience, whether there is an invitation in a certain image. After a decade of pursuing Gød (and almost 28 years of Gød pursuing me), they invite me to find what is new in the small and in the old, when so much feels recycled and my attentions are set so habitually on the novel and explicit.

In our meeting this month I had described to my spiritual director the experience of a crucible — strangely, a crucible of my own making. For the past couple of years, my prayers to the Father have been increasingly ardent and, well, indecorous. I’ve begun to refer to them sometimes as ‘conferences’ or ‘having it out’ with Gød. These have become spaces, by no means scheduled but carved out to hold nothing back, on the premise that my relationships with the persons of the Trinity are real in the same way a human relationship is real and, that if I have an unresolved conflict with a loved one, we need to see it through. If that means we argue, we argue; if dishes get broken, at least communication isn’t. And like in arguments that I have with people I care most about, I raise my voice, I bring up the past, I air my wounds, I demand responses. I show up and do so without apology. The premise for a real fight is a love that can withstand it.

In describing this to him, I expressed the appreciation for the depth of my relationship with Gød this has opened to me and the privilege of Gød’s constancy, knowing that I cannot break Gød or Gød’s love for me, that I cannot drive Gød away, even if at moments I do worry that I might yet break my faith. My director asked how I feel afterwards. Always worse than I thought, I told him. I never feel better, even as my conviction remains that my ‘showing up’ in this way is the best thing for the relationship. For me, understand, my capitulating to the nearest theological rationalization or spiritual sentiment not only risks being a poor bandaid and a deferment of real conflicts; it risks making how I feel about Gød more important than how much I know Gød and myself genuinely known; it risks admitting that ‘relationship’ here is just a metaphor for private religion. But that hasn’t made it fruitful. Lately despair has taken me into these conferences, and I’ve emerged only feeling weakened and left to slide deeper into despair. More anger rises to the surface, and as I alternate calling Gød to account and humbling myself to a passive openness, my dearest god seems farther off than I can tolerate. And that volta we see in the psalms of lament, where turns protest to language of praise, is nowhere to be found.

Days before this past appointment with my director I met with Gød on a lunchtime walk and voiced myself, somewhat grateful that the workday forced me out of bed, which was rapidly becoming place to bury myself in dark thoughts, yet not grateful to Gød. I was grateful to be able to think more coherently than the past day and a half, yet not grateful to Gød. I could muster no gratitude and probably didn’t try, and even as I realized then that I believe that Gød is good and for my good and is forming me for the good despite how cruel and removed that activity has felt, I had nothing but my hurt to throw back at Gød. I realized that I would certainly understand one day why these years had to be so painful and alone, and I would then be overfull with praise. “I will praise you ‘tomorrow,’” I promised honestly. “Today I have none to give.” And I felt suddenly this was enough for the god who stands outside of time, who receives in my present all of the praise and curses of my past and of my future, whom if I glorified just once is never not glorified. So I stopped. And I imagined an effusiveness of praise I could not imagine, somewhere in the future, by some me who will understands the good of that present moment and glories Gød with it, and I let Gød receive in the fullness of time praise in the past and the future, which hedged the empty space of present where I stood, in the middle, appreciating the silence and the release, where I remembered the fact that I loved Gød, whom I could not praise.

The next day on my walk I conferenced with Gød again. I confessed to the Father my exasperation, my fear of the places to which He was driving me, my assessment of His carelessness, etc. Yet as I worked myself up and relented alternately, I found myself each time returning to a strange feeling tenderness. Soon, my language of love mingled with my language of bitterness and complaint, and I could not longer make the distinction, and I called Him names as I told Him over and over I loved Him, all as I imagined that place where Gød was being praised for this terrible and good present.

I wondered about this love, and I wondered whether it wasn’t the cheap succor I’ve been refusing in its other forms, a way to short circuit the processing of our relationship with feelgoodery. I wondered whether it wasn’t just habit. Then the thought: Of course it’s habit. Love is habit, and it only because the habit to love Gød is formed in me than I can love Gød, and to be more ingrained with that habit is to love more constantly. Love is a posture, and the habit of a posture, of self-givenness. True, it is also a desire, just insofar as it is a desire to be given to this posture of self-givenness, to be given up to and before the beloved. And it is that posture that I found myself there returning to, despite myself, by mere and wonderful habit of grace. I felt suddenly, unaccountably, as though I loved Gød then more than I ever had — as though the more I accuse Gød, the more I rail against Gød, the more I spit my venom, still the more I love Gød.

Finally, walking yesterday at lunch, in the afterglow of a guided lectio and prayer (via Pray as You Go), still struggling, I had the profound sense that it is not me per se who was being forged in this crucible but rather my love for the Trinity. It resonated as I the words came to me, ‘iron love’ — love that is strong, that endures all, that needs no flexing or activation, that isn’t felt but just is. Yet I did feel this love, this love that has been somewhat incomprehensible to me as it filled in the gaps between my tirades and tantrums, that holds my doubting, a quiet tenderness. This love not from outside of me, from very much within me, yet unintended and unprovoked and unannounced — rather, like what has remained simply from all else burned away. Love that is neither conditioned on Gød’s acting nor on my understanding. I cannot wait to see what this love is that is being forged, how it will connect me to my god in future’s effusive praise, how it might become my love for others when that falseness too is burned away. For now, I sit a little more willingly in the crucible.

Photo cred: David M Pacy Photography (https://www.flickr.com/photos/63723146@N08/9262682030/), cropped

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