“At every moment the vast and horrible Thing breaks in upon us through the crevices and invades our precarious dwelling-place, that Thing we try so hard to forget but which is always there,
separated form us only by thin dividing walls: fire, pestilence, earthquake, storm, the unleashing of dark moral forces, all of these sweep away ruthlessly, in an instant, what we had labored with mind and heart to build up and make beautiful…
therefore, lest I succumb to the temptation to curse the universe, and the Maker of the universe,
teach me to adore it by seeing you hidden within it.
Say once again to me, Lord, those great and liberating wordsthe words which are at once revealing light and effective power: this is my Body. In very truth, if only we will it to be so, the immense and somber Thing, the specter, the tempest—is you. It is I, be not afraid.
All the things in life that fill us with dread, all that filled your own heart with dismay in the garden of agony: all in the last resort, are the species…the matter, of one and the same sacrament.”
Teilhard de Chardin
When you’re in the midst of a storm—the house flattening or boat sinking kind—you’re in it. It’s not the kind of thing you can sit back and watch from a distance. You can’t excuse yourself from the deck to go below to “process.” You can’t sit out front miles away from the tornado that’s coming to journal about your feelings. This isn’t the moment to make sense out of the symbols and metaphors. There are things to be done. Survival kicks in. You batten down the hatches, and lean in. You do what needs to be done to protect your loved ones, knowing that waves will hit, winds will blow, and when its all said and done…things won’t quite be as they were before. You pray for mercy. Your voice trembles and doesn't sound like your own when you barely make out the words...
Teach me to adore the terror by seeing You hidden within it.
The storm is not the time to “find the meaning.” The storm is simply the storm.
And when the winds settle, or the waters grow calm, you emerge to assess the damage, sort through the debree, and what can’t be salvaged. You feel the searing truth of Rilke’s words
“Now you must go out into your heart as onto a vast plain. Now the immense loneliness begins.”
No one can do this work for you.
So, you get to work. You reach out for help and accept the help of those who can support the work, because you need it. You clean, clear, tear out, patch up, and try to build up again. Your people become a vein system of life and oxygen, brining meals, picking up your kids, and coming to work with you, or just sit beside you when you’re between the things that need doing when one is trying to rebuild a new structure...when what existed has now been forced to change. You mutter the words like a mantra, like a cord to something solid that might bring you comfort in the midst of so much uncertainty:
Teach me to adore this exhaustion by seeing You hidden within it.
This is still not the moment for meaning.
Even later, when you try to find the new normal in a structure that’s changed, that’s both familiar and foreign, and when you find the new pathways to get to where you know you need to go, it’s still not the moment for meaning. It is just the moment for living in all the strangeness and beauty and sadness and hope without rushing to put a name to any of it. And the chatter of friends is not really necessary, so you find your solitude and go into a gentle rhythm of routine. Only a few know how to just be with you as you grieve what was and make room for the newness of what is, and know better than to clutter your solitude with the constraining shapes of words. You feel powerless in the face of what you can't fix, or repair, or make better. In your anguish, and as you're held by your sacred few, you feel your body saying...
Teach me to adore this grief by seeing You hidden within it.
You live on. You feel the simplicity of things because it’s all you can do.
Like Rilke describes in "Onto a Vast Plain," you learn how to become the ground again…and are surprised at the new life that’s growing in you, just as you are when spring’s resilience bursts through the snow. You become patient like a thing that is “ripened until it is real,” knowing that there is still a long time to go before you feel the reality of all of this change. So you ripen. You begin to move in a way that is no longer dictated by the external voice of "I should", but is instead trusting of a deeper wisdom within requiring more courage and faith:
Teach me to adore the unknown by seeing You hidden within it.
Still there is no profound meaning to extract. A storm is a storm. Life moves us in unexpected ways: sometimes it flattens things we’ve built, it topples the trees on our beloved horizons, it changes structures we thought we’d live in forever. It forces us to let go of what has been, and to take steps into what could be. Sometimes it takes a great storm to shake our foundations in such a way that we can no longer ignore the things we try to bury, ignore, or pretend aren’t there. But the storms are just being storms.
Teilhard had a view of suffering that was firmly rooted in his scientific lens. He didn’t sugar coat it. He didn’t try to impose “meaning” by assigning the circumstances of our suffering to the arbitrary will of an omnipotent and distant God. Teilhard was first and foremost a student of evolution. Change is the course of life, and sometimes life has no other way forward than through great upheaval. The Storm is a storm.
What it shatters, reveals, and opens up is all part of what we get to sort through and make sense out of. What we choose to do with the wreckage, and how we decide to rebuild…that is our agency. Our will to choose hope or despair. Our choice to participate in this unfolding, or “in fieri” as Teilhard says: the great process of becoming. And through every step of it we can pray, as he did, “teach me to adore this by seeing You hidden within it.”
There’s been a great upheaval in my life. It’s been painful, messy, shattering, and it’s been beautiful, surprising, and hopeful. The existing structures have shifted and new structures are emerging …a slow work of trust that is not happening independently or in isolation.
I am--in every way--imperfectly trying to participate in this becoming by remaining committed to being truthful, honest, courageous and loving, even as my structures shift...especially as they do. I have never been more certain of my own desire to continue to give my self away in the hopes of participating with all of you in something greater than ourselves, something we all form part of together…the greater whole we represent. Yesterday, I ritualized my commitment and this threshold of change in my life with the "un-holy" sacraments of ink and needle. It's my own way to mark this and remember (be membered to) this intention always:
Teach me to adore this process of becoming by seeing You in every aspect of it…the difficult changes, and the surprising hope. Teach me to trust the joy and sadness, the loving and the letting go, death and birth, recognizing that all of it belongs in this great evolutionary unfolding. This is our body...