What this author learned when no words came.
I’ve been going through a rather apophatic period lately. The apophatic has to do with the vast parts of Mystery that we can’t quite reach. You might think of it like all the dark matter in space: it’s vast, seemingly infinite-- yet we don’t know what it is. We only know that it is there.
When speaking of the divine, dark matter is Unknowing. It's the vast spaces of Being that we don’t understand; or if we do, it is only darkly, as through a glass. Our minds fail at categorizing or slapping a label on it. No analogies, no images, no explanations fit. You simply know something in your bones, but can’t even fathom putting it into words.
Space-walking amongst the “dark matter” of the divine has been lovely. I’ve rather been enjoying the weightlessness of it all. I sit on the couch before my picture window and simply gaze out upon the sky. Spaciousness. My brain gets to take a holiday while my heart soaks it in.
The only drawback: it makes blogging a very difficult task. I can’t tell you how many times I thought about blogging -- “I really should send a line out to let people know I’m still alive.” But whenever I went to write, nothing came. I had nothing to say. I was very present-- I had that to give-- but my intellect was very quiet.
I took this as a sign that this was simply what the divine was giving me in the moment. Presence. Without having to try to explain it.
We Must Not Murder to Dissect
I’ve always been very verbal. I bought my first diary in second grade and began recording my interior life from that age. (It certainly wasn’t very profound at age 7-- I remember recording a dream that I had “sex” with a classmate named Chris, which I thought to mean kissing naked. That’s what people did in the movies, right??)
I hand-wrote a 54-page story in the third grade, called The Adventures of the Killer Cats. (Kudos to Mrs. Tesch for encouraging me to keep going!) In the eighth grade, when filling three journals for the year was part of our regular assignment, I decided to fill eleven. I graduated middle school with a maxed-out A+ (1208%) in Language Arts.
Throughout high school and college, writing was an outlet for my inner world. Muddy and murky concepts got washed off and pinned down for everyone to see. I was lauded for the clarity with which I wrote, the accessibility of it, making complex concepts edible.
I have passed through periods where I have written less. But it’s never seemed so appropriate as it does now.
I have had no desire to capture and express my current state. No more than I would have the desire to pin down a butterfly in order to study, examine, and understand it. I think we understand the essence of what a butterfly is by watching its winged dance, not by dissecting it.
We kill the spark when we dissect things.
This is one of the reasons I have such a crush on the Christian East. In the West, the Church is obsessed with Truth. Ever since the Reformation, we’ve been arguing about doctrine and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or what Jesus meant when he said “[fill in literally anything the Christ-man was recorded saying].” We stake our identities on orthodoxy (“right opinion” or belief): heady, precise, left-brained conformity.
The East, on the other hand, seems a little less concerned with definitions and analysis.
The East prefers the path of Beauty.
Beauty is a funny, murky thing. She is frighteningly wonderful. Instead of relying on reason to persuade someone, she sneaks into your heart through the back door.
Instead of memorizing creeds, she invites you to encounter the Holy through an icon.
We are defenseless before her. While we’re busy loading our guns with verses to justify our positions, Beauty shows up in a robe of dazzling stars, and drops it before us.
All reasoning ceases.
We see through this Woman’s transparent body into the Beyond.
She is a window into the Night.
Dark, but beautiful.
Beauty as Teacher
For a long time, I’ve been wanting to host contemplative retreats. I specifically say “host” and not “lead.” Leading is not really my role; I prefer to make space for what the divine is up to in people’s lives, and make space for people to form deep connections with one another. I want to keep the “talks” to a minimum: the point of a contemplative retreat is not to talk about contemplation. It’s not to learn about the three stages of the interior life or to take notes on Teresa’s seven mansions.
The point of a contemplative retreat is to contemplate.
The point is to be swept up by the divine.
This does not happen via the head.
It comes, as the best things do, through the heart.
Sometimes the head can be a pathway there. For this reason, I wouldn’t do away with talks altogether. Sharing stories has a way of leading to new insights and shifts in our interior landscapes.
But I would never want to be the primary teacher.
That job would be reserved for Beauty. She and her cohort of Sister Sky and Mother Earth, Brother Lake and Father Fire.
This seems like a far more appropriate way to have a contemplative retreat.
Through the coolness of the soil and the texture of the trees, our Teacher will beckon us closer.
Through the presence of one another, we will be given a window to Mystery.
Through the transparency of the night sky, we will peer into the deep Unknown.
Beauty will drop her robes, and even if we have no words to describe it, it won’t matter.
The goal, after all, is to be swept up by the divine.
And while She is dark, She is also beautiful.
The first Spiritual Audacity Retreat will be held in Texas April 23-26, 2020. Click here to find out more!