Monday, April 13, 2009

In the season of new life at a time of darkness

I'm rather reluctant to write this post because I am conscientious that we have just now entered Easter, a time of new life and joy, and I wonder how transparent I should be on this blog. I want to be real, though, and to affirm the human struggles that even those in religious life face.

Whenever I deeply share my interior movements to others, many are often surprised by the inner struggles that I face. In one respect, I can be quite good at hiding it. I am also deeply introverted, so I do not go out of my way to share what is going on inside of me. It's sometimes a struggle for me when people ask: "how are you doing?" I do not think most people ask that question looking for a fairly deep response, so I just revert to the "I'm doing fine." What should I say? "oh, I'm doing pretty shitty today, how about you?"

That was especially difficult for me yesterday, however, because I was not feeling particularly joy-filled on Easter. I try to put on the face, I try to persuade myself to snap out of it, but I cannot ignore what I deeply feel inside. In the Church season of great joy, I personally found myself in great darkness.

Part of my struggle is that I do not permit myself to feel shitty. "I'm in religious life, I should feel this, I should be this. I'm expected to be this." Yes, those in religious life have the expectation to be holy people, to not be angry, jealous, greedy, etc. etc. We're supposed to have it all together, you know?

When the interior struggles of Mother Teresa came out, it was such a shock to many. I thought it was the best thing in the world, because it affirmed for me that even the holiest of people struggle with darkness. And, it wasn't all that shocking for me.

Last night, I had a heart to heart with Jesus, and I felt that he was inviting me to express my deep pain and struggle. "Be real with me, Ryan, and tell me how you're actually feeling."

I've been pondering this morning what I read in the novitiate of St. John of the Cross in Thomas Green S.J.'s book When the Well Runs Dry. One of the insights that I remember is St. John's belief that in times of great darkness are times when God is most near--we just are not able to perceive it. One of the ways that I witness this is that in my own struggles, I find that my desire to connect with God proportionately grows as the darkness increases. I continue to learn in the spiritual life about attending to my desires, and there is something to be said about increased desires in times of darkness.

From the darkness, I find myself fervently praying for increased life, for increased hope, for increased faith, for increased love. And, I do believe that God hears and responds to these prayers. The writing of this post is a fruit of these prayers.

You might ask how the darkness manifests itself inside of me. The question again for me, then, is how transparent I should be. I think it is worth sharing, though.

My darkness plays out in a number of ways: I shut myself off from others because I do not want to be bothered by them nor do I want to burden them with what I am going through (which isn't the most healthy thing to do because then I just get angry about being lonely), my thoughts and feelings become consumed in overwhelming helplessness, that life is just too difficult, and then, at worst, a desire to take my life in order to get away from the pain it entails.

This darkness has been a recurring thing throughout my entire life, and I imagine I will battle with it for the rest of it. Honestly, though, if I did not believe in God's mercy and power in my life, I do not know if I would still be here.

I shared this with my rector since I knew I needed to talk about this, and I knew I needed help. Thankfully, he forwarded me to a good therapist--a desire of life out of the darkness. I thought I didn't need it after seeing one in the novitiate, but it looks like I still have more work to do. As my novice director likes to say: "It's good stuff."

Just in writing this, I feel myself in a place of great thanksgiving for being able to share this with you, even just to concretize my thoughts. And, I feel the life of Easter coming more into me in the sharing of my struggles.

Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J. has the wonderful line in his poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland":
"Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east."
May God easter in us during this new season, especially at those moments of our darkness, and that Christ may be that inner light bringing us to new life.


Regina Higgins said...

Ryan, I'm glad you knew to ask for support at a difficult time. You are in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, I would like to send you an email but - no address anywhere on your blog.

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

My e-mail is I should probably put that somewhere.

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Thank you for your prayers, Regina. I appreciate it!

Barbara said...

I have been in and out of darkness myself lately, Ryan. For me it is an endless listlessness, procrastination, self-hatred, no energy to do anything about it. It, thankfully, comes and goes, so I can put it in perspective. God go with you as you explore your own darkness. I think John of the Cross said that we often have to fly by night.