Easter Sunday

When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion

When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion

Faith’s adventure can lead us into the deepest caverns of despair—into holes so deep and black we cannot even sense Jesus’ presence, into places so lost and dark we can find no way out. And that is when we stand quite still and say, “Here am I,” knowing that Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always” is not swayed by our perceptions. Then we begin to see a step on the path ahead—just one step, then another. And when we, at last, step once again, blinking into full sunlight, we are blinded by the sheer joy of it all. Never before were trees this green with spring sparkle! Never did the wind so fill our lungs with life! Never were we so eager to walk out into the vibrancy of it all! Easter has found us!

 
In the Night I felt I’d come to a standstill, but, in truth, God was moving me with more surety than my feeble steps could ever muster. God’s tunnel, God’s sidewalk, cannot fail. If we but hang on, God will take us through the Night straight into God’s heart. All we need do is climb aboard, plant our feet, and wait out the ride.

 

When God Walks Away excerpt

When God Walks Away—Exerpt

Dark Night Book Cover 4     Why Metaphor?

Like John’s “Dark Night” poem and commentary, When God Walks Away is replete with metaphor. Why? To answer that question, we’ll need to acquaint ourselves with a couple of terms. Among the tomes in a good theological library, you will find listings for “apophatic” and “kataphatic” theology. Kataphatic theology affirms what God is (God is the Good Shepherd, God is love). In contrast, apophatic theology posits that God is far beyond human conception, and is, therefore, best approached as mystery. We can only say God is more truth than I am capable of understanding, God is more love than any concept of love I can create. Any image of God we have is limiting and, to some degree, distorting.

The balanced faith life requires both. For instance, Jesus used imagery (kataphatic theology) to help His followers begin to understand the ways and character of God. He employed parables and spoke in metaphor. More to the point, Jesus was God with us; God whom people could touch and hear. On the other hand, Jesus often spoke in what sounds like riddles.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [i]

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” [ii]

We spend our lives pondering the meaning of such remarks. As Job discovered, God is beyond our comprehension. God responded to that suffering man’s questions from a whirlwind: as near as we can come to an apophatic image.

Scripture dances with both kataphatic and apophatic thought and, in this book, so shall we. Image is vital to belief: we must understand something of God to know what we are believing in. That’s why we need kataphatic imagery. Yet God does not always play by our rules. When God does not fix things according to our plan, we suffer a crisis of faith and feel like giving up on God. But something tells us there’s more to God than we’ve pictured. Maybe someday this side of physical death, we’ll make sense of it all, but maybe we won’t. Still, we choose to trust. That’s apophatic theology.

Metaphor helps us glean from both apophatic and kataphatic theology, because, through metaphor, what we experience directs our imaginations toward what is beyond us. [iii] Because metaphor both “is” and “is not” that which it represents, metaphor at once draws aspects of God closer for our inspection (kataphatic theology) while at the same time recognizing the beyondness of God (apophatic theology). For example, when we say, “God is Mother,” we indicate that in some ways God relates to us in what we understand as “mothering.” We recognize, however, that certain aspects of human mothering do not define God—for instance God is not limited to a single gender. Therefore, metaphor respects the mystery of God in ways direct explication of God’s attributes cannot. It is one of the great gifts of Christian mysticism. [iv]

 

[i] Matthew 10:34 NRSV.

[ii] John 9:39 NRSV.

[iii] “ . . . soul truth is so powerful that we must allow ourselves to approach it, and it to approach us, indirectly . . . We achieve indirection by exploring that topic metaphorically, via a poem, a story, a piece of music, or a work of art that embodies it” (Palmer Wholeness 92-93).

[iv] A listing of terms used in this book may be found in Appendix E.

It’s Lent and I’m Here, God. Where are You?

Dark Night Book Cover

When God Walks Away Cover

 

I wrote When God Walks Away to be a compassionate companion in a reader’s Dark Night. Employing Holy Week as a metaphor for the Dark Night, the book moves the reader through suffering and relinquishment into acceptance, loss, and then into surprising new life.

The work cannot be called a self-help book, for the lesson of the Night is that our help comes from God alone—even when what we have experienced as God has seemingly vanished. I hope readers will consider this text a silent friend in holy mystery. When God Walks Away contains no solutions for the Dark Night. We cannot ward off the Night as we would an insect attack. There is no repellant we can apply. Neither, if we are wise, would we so choose.

Rather, I hope this book serves as something readers can tuck under their arms as they foray into the Night’s adventure: a reminder that no one is alone in the Night’s private agony.  The Dark Night of the Soul is a mystery as profound as God, its initiator. No amount of study could produce a writer equal to describing it. I feel rather like a blindfolded woman valiantly trying to describe an elephant by feeling only one of its legs. I can report in great detail what I know only in part! Therefore, in an effort at balance, the book includes the thoughts and imagery of souls across the centuries who participated in its mystery—souls like C. S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, the Psalmists, and Jesus. We will welcome their guidance as we navigate the Night’s blind terrain. Whatever wisdom resides between the book’s covers reflects first the searching work of God, and then the testimonies of a great cloud of witnesses.

Sprinkled throughout the text are practices that helped me, or other Dark-Night journeyers, survive the Night by keeping an open line to God. At one point I suggest an art gallery trip, at another some musical expression, at still another journal writing as a way to bear the pain. Readers can consider each practice as an item on a cafeteria line of nutritious selections. Some will suit their taste and some will not. Sample at will.

We have one task in the Dark Night: to endure. God will do the rest.

To learn more about the book this Lenten season, visit Barnes & Noble or Amazon.