[re-post from 2013]
Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul. ― Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, after spending 15 years in a Soviet Gulag
My story is not unique, but it is my story. 1993. Summer. I was hospitalized for extreme panic attacks, but as they’d gone un-diagnosed for eight months, I believed I was going mad. Confined to bed on and off throughout. Like living in a dark prison that was yourself.
One morning, after a whole night of gripping, object-less fear, my white-knuckled hands were drenched with sweat from the strain of a crushing grip desperately searching for security. My hands throbbed with pain. I was like a small child, lost, scared, sure there was no reassuring hand outstretched that could save me. Alone, attended only by phantom shadows.
I remember it. Dropping to my knees, just before dawn, blabbering some inchoate, tear-choked cry for help: “Why? What the hell? Where are you?” Somehow, for a moment, I managed to confess my powerlessness. I abandoned the solipsistic creed of self-reliance I had for years assiduously cultivated amid the chaos of life. Postured in a hapless prostration, I prayed, “This is not in my power, God. I’m done fighting. I accept.” My hands opened.
A certain peace came. Certainly not freedom from the struggle, I knew, but hope. No better word to capture that moment.
Someone called me later that day to check on me and recommended I see a Dr. Zimon in Boston. I went. He knew immediately, diagnosed. Began my lifelong road to recovery, to self-discovery, and to a far deeper penetration of faith as “the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). Before then I’d never seen so clearly that only faith wed to hope is truly radical faith. Faith is realer than real only when its One anchor is all you have left.
Faith is not assent to some intriguing propositions that tickle the mind, smooth life’s rougher edges or strangely warm the insides. God no! Faith is the interior act of clinging to Life itself in the darkest night, at the threshold of the grave. Only then, only there can you say you’ve permitted yourself to profess credo, “I believe,” I am faith’s act. Only then, only there can you say He’s taught you to pray in faith.
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Having said this, he breathed his last. – Luke 23:46
To say, when you fall into the gravest hardship or loss, “I believed until this happened,” is to have failed to grasp what faith is, or when it begins. The whole of our faith’s content finds its perfection in the revelation of God’s lifeless corpse sealed in a tomb, harrowing hell’s hopelessness with the immortal threat of hope in a compassionate Father. Faith is assenting trust in the Author of Life hanging on a Tree, a Son commending His spirit into a reassuring Hand outstretched to save Him.
For Lent, I hope…
To become more able to see, sub specie aeternitatis, “under the aspect of eternity,” my every life limit, failure, weakness, hardship, inability and disappointment, i.e. to see all through the Most High’s eyes.
To see in each of my hollow spaces a vacancy inviting His indwelling.
To discover in my poverty His self-emptying riches.
To sense in His painful absence the presence of His blessed yearning.
To know in the deafening silence His breathless attentiveness.
To enter into His Cloud of Unknowing, trusting.
To hear in His patient compassion a call to listen.
To receive Him in the repulsive, the unattractive, the uninteresting neighbor.
To believe in the words of a friend who died of ALS — “When you’re down to nothing God’s up to something.”
To find someone without hope, with whom I can share hope.
To replace every impulse to impugn those who fail the test of my measure with a secret sacrifice to God for their well-being.
To reveal a God who re-fashions the world from a Cross, raises the dead while in a tomb, opens heaven out of the pit of hell, and who said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9)