What do you turn towards, for comfort, in times of spiritual darkness?
When I was sixteen, I picked up a book of poems by William Stafford. It was Fall, and my grandfather, who I had been very close to, had committed suicide over the summer.
I was taking driving lessons a couple of months after his death, learning how to operate a stick-shift, and when my instructor dropped me off at the edge of my long driveway lined with tall pine trees, I wept.
I cried for my grandfather, but it was more than that. I felt tied to a grief that spanned generations, that was much larger than my own life. It was existential.
I gravitated towards one poem, Consolations, and read it over and over, until I knew it in my heart. I turned over poems in my mind, in my body, the way I held prayers, and that - poems and prayers - is where I go in times of spiritual darkness.
Two months ago my grandmother (mommom) died. She was the heart and matriarch of our family. She picked herself up, over twenty years ago, after losing her husband in such a tragic and sudden way, and re-built her life, surrounded by family and friends who beheld her strength with such admiration.
I didn’t speak of my grandfather or his death while mommom was alive; I always thought it would be too painful for her. Though, I wrote about his suicide, once, in an essay that was published, and which I shared with her. She said she was proud of me. I felt relieved. And lighter to be able talk about this pain, rather than hold it inside.
Hanukkah began last night. This week, I will put on mommom’s apron and peel potatoes which I’ll fry in oil with my kids.
When we light the candles we will contemplate miracles. I believe in miracles, Searching.
Big and small. But I’ve been most moved, recently, thinking about smaller miracles, the acts that sustain us, that keep us alive and filled with hope.
Spiritual darkness is terrifying, and isolating. But it is not forever. And you are not alone. Seek out the things that offer you sustenance – people, prayers, poems. And take in the extra light over these next eight days.
I’d like to leave you with this poem, Consolations, which I have recited at many times, over many years of my life, and which comforts me still now, in this moment of miraculous life.
by William Stafford
“The broken part heals even stronger than
they say. But that takes awhile.
And, “Hurry up,” the whole world says.
They tap their feet. And it still hurts on rainy
afternoons when the same absent sun
gives no sign it will ever come back.
“What difference in a hundred years?”
The barn where Agnes hanged her child
will fall by then, and the scrawled words
erase themselves on the floor where rats’ feet
run. Boards curl up. Whole new trees
drink what the rivers bring. Things die.
“No good thing is easy.” They told us that,
while we dug our fingers into the stones
and looked beseechingly into their eyes.
They say the hurt is good for you. It makes
what comes later a gift all the more
precious in your bleeding hands.