Monday, March 9, 2015

Between the Dark and Daylight

I’m not embarrassed to say that many of the new (to me) spiritual teachers I find come from watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday on the OWN cable TV network.  Oprah’s interviews with these luminaries send me scurrying to Amazon where I find wonderful books by these authors I would have otherwise missed.

My latest find is Benedictine nun Joan Chittister and her book Between the Dark and Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, the title of which of course intrigued me with its Grace in the Gray Area connotations.

In short but eloquent essays Chittister tackles life’s paradoxes and contradictions with an expert eye. She takes as her starting point,

The great truth of early monastic spirituality, for instance, lies in the awareness that only when life is lived in the aura of the transcendent, in the commonplaces of life, where the paradoxes lie, can we possibly live life to its fullness, plumb life to its depths.   

Chittister exposes the security and certainty we strive for as shielding us from risks that can take us to being our better selves.  Calamity, upset, change, the crash of a wave against our beach, all can open us up to new possibilities. There are two essays on what she calls “The Poverty of Plenty,” the epidemic of consumerism and marketing and the smothering of our lives with our stuff. Our stuff makes us perpetually insecure, needy, and unable to experience gratitude for what we have, when, as we surely all know, it is what Chittister calls “the things of the soul” that really nourish us and make us rich. We must look inside.

She also tackles failure and success (“Without failure all we have is untried ability.”), energy and exhaustion, rest and rush, guilt and growth, creativity and confusion (the marriage of which “is the beginning of new life.”) Her essay on rationality and irrationality endearingly evolves into an ode to the wonders of having pets and what they can teach us. The masculine and the feminine (each of which must be able to claim the other’s freedoms), the liberation in loss, the loneliness of love, the fullness of separateness and the emptiness of crowds (not to be confused with community) receive thoughtful looks.  

Among the many more examples of life between darkness and daylight are the certitude of doubt (she says life is about possibility, not certainty), the light found in darkness, the challenge of hopelessness (“What breeds hopelessness is the failure to pursue the possible in the imperfect.”) and The Place of Tsunamis in the Ocean of Life (“Life is the way we deal with it as well as the way we look at it.”)  The most insightful quote I found was on The Delusion of Frustration: “Frustration is something that does not exist—except within the self. It translates my world to me through the filter of my own need to control it.”

We cannot avoid the contradictions in our lives but must explore them.” For as Chittister writes, “Confronting the paradoxes of life around us and in us, contemplating the meaning of them for ourselves, eventually and finally, leads to our giving place to the work of the Spirit in our own lives.”