dark grace

I have been crying a lot lately. Deep down, belly shaking crying and soft rolling tears crying, at prayer, during the Office, and driving down the road. My dreams, too, have been full of water. In one, I am on a bus during a terrible storm, water sheeting down the windows and running down the street, so much water the bus nearly floats. From the bus I board a ship that sails out into the storm. The storm nearly overwhelms the ship. Then I notice the ship is filling with water, sinking deeper and deeper into the water, until we just make it into port. I get off the ship and those there to greet me show no appreciation for my watery plight.

We have become so used to hurting and exploiting one another that we hardly even notice it anymore. I’m as guilty of this kind of ignorance and the silence that makes it possible as anyone. For all my impassioned crusading for justice, too often I paint the oppressed with broad strokes when what we are talking about are actual people, living actual lives. Immigrants are not a general category. They’re a real little boy afraid to go to school because he doesn’t know if his real parents will be home when he returns.

I am frightened and angry about what is happening in our country, but more than anything I feel a keening sorrow that is so much more than personal. It is a sorrow millennia old, and the tears I’m crying are not only, not even primarily, my own. I feel as if the broken heart of God has cracked open in my chest, as if the sword that pierced Mary’s soul now pierces mine, as if the love Jesus knew for his Father now tugs me inexorably forward toward my own cross.

I am afraid when I think of that cross, what all this love for Jesus may mean for me, for us. I find that the closer I grow to God in prayer, the more I love God, the more I love other people, the more I love this shatteringly beautiful world and at the same time the freer I am to lay down my life for the sake of the gospel.

What to do and how to be in all this water and all this silence? How to love, even to the point of death, if it comes to that? These are not ordinary times, and our response cannot be ordinary, either. There are generations of murder, rape, and theft to mourn, so many tears they could drown the world. There is a dark grace in all of this, and the sorrow and tears are shot through with a bit of incandescence. And in the midst of it all, the crocus keep blooming, and I do know a love greater than any I’ve ever known. This life. This painful, beautiful life.

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13 Replies to “dark grace”

  1. Br. Aidan, I woke this very morning (around 4:40) from a dream of ice and water.

    I am at the edge of ice, on my stomach, trying to pull out a dog that is slipping into the black water. He is a big dog, and heavy, a black Lab. He is not my dog, but as I fight crumbling ice and fear and black water for him, he becomes my dog. I am not alone: there are men around, worried about their trucks, glad it’s not their trucks going in; they are watching me but not one leans in to help, or tries to keep me from falling in, too. One man inches closer but only to poke me in the ribs to see if I will let go. I will not. He shrugs, and laughs, and turns away. I wake myself (and probably everyone in the building) crying out, “My dog, my dog! Life before metal. Life.”

    We – and many others, I am sure – are dreaming the same dreams. I’ve been crying, too. Waves of sorrow come often these days. I believe we have been born for this time, though I don’t want to have been born for this time. But here I am, and here we are, and now is now, and the cross is the cross is the cross.

    Beauty and pain, yes.

    Thank you for writing.



    1. Laurel, thank you so much for sharing your dream and your words with me. They give me heart. I think you’re right that many of us are having these collective dreams and tapping into the collective unconscious. Yes, we have been born for this time, and all that has happened in our lives with God has led us to this point. I have to believe God will show us the way forward. It’s good to have company on the road.


  2. I lite a candle and prayed a prayer to J O S Huntington , OHC for you. Dark Grace is a Gift of passion and sometimes loneliness that is given to those of humility on their way of their Calling. My prayers are with you!


    1. Joel, thank you for your prayers and your comments. You’re right that the life of faith is sometimes–perhaps often–lonely. That loneliness is partly what drives me to write–to let others know they’re not alone, and to feel less alone in the struggle myself.


  3. Yes, everything is painful and beautiful now. Achingly so. So comforting to know I’m not the only one. Beautifully said.


    1. Thanks, Mary. Yes, it’s good to know I’m not alone, too. Thank you, also, for sharing the piece you wrote. I love the image of water within us–which, as a scientist you know is quite literally the case–and the Spirit hovering over our own internal waters. Lovely.


  4. I, too, am acquainted with that sorrow that feels millennia old. It’s such a rich mystery.

    Your statement about the dangers of generalities and broad strokes resonates with me. This Lent, I’m committing myself to working on being compassionate in more specific ways. I’m seeking to truly know and love the specific people God has placed immediately before me, whether they’re family, friends, colleagues, or strangers.

    I’ve been guilty of on the one hand, lamenting and speaking out against the lack of compassion in our economic and justice systems, while on the other hand, ignoring my own call to be compassionate person-to-person. I suppose the systematic stuff feels easier to address because it doesn’t require as much risk to the ego.


    1. Thank you for sharing your practice, Max. I think you’re absolutely right that it’s often easier to rail against systems than it is to change my particular behaviors, many of which contribute to the functioning of those systems. Besides, I’m a firm believer that it’s real relationships with actual people that change a heart. The more I can engage in those relationships with people very different from me, the greater the opportunity for conversion.


  5. A year and half ago, I lost my uncle. He didn’t have any kids and I was so close to him. For months, I would just find myself in tears – waking up, working, running errands. Then these past months, I have been crying too and seeing others cry. At first the sadness paralyzed me, but now the tears hearten me — there are people who care, people who have soft hearts, people who still have a bit of tenderness about them. So thank you Brother Aidan for your honesty, vulnerability and tenderness. It is healing for me to read your words, to know that I – that we – are not alone. We live. We cry. We pray. May God make something beautiful from our tears.


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