January is always a time when sorrow comes to visit me. Each time that sorrow arises, I’m taken aback by its persistence and its depth. At this point, the sorrow has no particular focus or object or source. It is, rather, the corollary to the joy, wonder, and gratitude I often feel at the privilege of being alive with God and other people. In past years, when the sorrow has demanded my attention, I’ve entered into it with the understanding–or the hope–that the long process of grieving life’s hurts would eventually lead to healing and wholeness. By engaging my sorrow I was helping that process along, cooperating with God’s slow efforts to wipe my tears away and bring to birth a new creation. This year has been different.
What if sorrow is not a symptom of a deep wound yet to be healed? What if it isn’t a marker of the false skin that needs to be shed so that the true self can shine out? To use Ignatian language, what if sorrow is not a desolation? What if it is a consolation, a sign of my full participation in what Marilynne Robinson calls the great sacrament: Being itself?
You see, my sorrow helps to shatter my illusions and obsessions. It demands my attention to the present moment. It reminds me that I am not this blog, the beautiful garden I help to steward into being, my academic degrees, or my comprehension of theological principles. At my core I am nothing more or less than a human being, more fully alive with every day that passes, gifted with that most precious and profligate of gifts: life. Sorrow is not a removal from life, but a fuller participation in it. As such it is as much a way of contemplation as anything else.
I had a yoga teacher in college who would hold us in a pose for what seemed like hours, telling us a story of some guru or other. Just when we were at the breaking point, she would calmly and gently say, “grateful to be alive.” With sweat running down our faces, muscles trembling, and hearts thudding away we were so alive. Even as I wanted to be released from the pose, I knew a deeper surge of life within me.
This year, I have tried to drink deeply of the well of my sorrow. Believe it or not, the water actually tastes sweet, because it tastes of the stuff of life. And what a gift it is to be alive. What a gift.
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