Grey night of the soul

There has been a lot of change in my life of late. In the last few months:

  • I have submitted my PhD and am waiting for the viva (and working hard to prepare, honest!)
  • I have left the C of E ordination process (which I’m pleased about)
  • I’ve done some serious re-thinking of career plans
  • I could well have joint Anglican-Methodist membership soon

On top of that, I don’t know what I’ll be doing, where I’ll be (in particular in relation to TractorGirl) and maybe how I’ll put food on the table (though that is almost certainly me panicking) in a few weeks’ time.

All this and a conversation today with a friend on a similar topic has got me thinking. Where is God in all of this change? I suppose because I’d been thinking about ordination for so long (and still feel a deep sense of call, though am glad to be out of the process) it’s shaped how I see and understand my faith. Now that’s not on the agenda, how do I tell my story, and what is God doing? I must admit as well to a deep sense of boredom with a lot of church stuff, which feels increasingly pointless, and a degree of apathy about prayer. When you’ve prayed for guidance, made a real effort to listen to God, prayed about and discussed it through with others who’ve encouraged you to follow a given path, you think you have some idea of what God wants. The failure of that has left me wondering just what my faith is about and the point of prayer.

It taps into a major theological issue I really struggle with anyway – in what sense can we speak of God’s action in the world? To hear some people talk, God micro-manages their lives. I can see that it can be comforting to believe that God is in charge, and I’m not knocking anyone who has a really deep sense of that, but I can’t help but ask about the problems God seems incapable of resolving. On the other hand, belief in a distant God who just stands back (like the Deism of Locke, for instance, or the only sort of ‘God’ Dawkins can deal with) is just not the Christian God. A solid doctrine of creation tells us that God is moment by moment creating, sustaining and redeeming the world, so that if his attention lapsed for a moment, there wouldn’t be a creation. Moreover, God’s desire for that creation is to have life in all its fullness, which is why he sent Jesus. Grace is a constant reaching out to what is not God in love to draw it into the life, the very heart, of the Trinity (think Rublev’s ikon) which is made possible through salvation history culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

I know the various answers such as the free-will defence and the need for the creation to be free and open to risk in order to have any integrity. I like Rowan Williams‘ idea of a sort of ‘membrane’ between us and God that can be thinned out by prayer, a holy life, a combination of events, so something new can break through. I’d use this sort of reasoning to reconcile the resurrection with science – a deeper level of reality, of truth (indeed truth his very self) has broken through. But, however satisfying such explanations might be intellectually, they don’t cut it emotionally. I know some (one person in particular) would find it hard to accept that more than rationality is needed, but we are inherently emotional beings (indeed, there is evidence that without emotions, we find it nigh on impossible to put decisions into action – such is the case with some folks with brain damage) and if God takes all we are seriously, the emotions matter to him as well as our ideas.

Last night, at the Cathedral, I went to a service for the Venerable Bede’s saint day, and found the sermon very moving. It’s the most down-to-earth thing I’ve heard for ages, and I wanted to give the preacher a big hug. God felt present in that service in such a powerful way. I can’t say I’m experiencing a sort of dark night of the soul, because God is there, but nor can I say that last night is the norm and keeping faith feels like a real effort, though I’d never abandon it because I really do believe Christ is risen. That’s why I’d call it a ‘grey night’ of the soul; I need a re-think about what is at the heart of my faith. Applying for jobs has shown me that use of my gifts to serve others has to be at the heart of career choices, but the rest is all a bit vague…

8 thoughts on “Grey night of the soul

  1. Hey- whenever I am struggling to understand/comprehend how God affects the world/my life- I look towards the people in my life who through their prescence make my life feel filled with love. Sometimes the only way God can be found is through the people whose acts are what I would Godly- people who do things simply because of unending love. God, because of free will really is limited in what he/she can physically do in this world I believe- like a parent he/she can merely watch and go through your emotions with you. God cries when you cry. However, in my mind, the people who lift you up during the times when you can’t cope or are just tired they are Gods disciples and represent what God would do physically if he/she could. Grace is, as you say, the proof of God. Yet ungrace, when things go wrong, feels so unfair and unjust. However, I have learned to try and see ungrace as an opportunity for others to show grace, once more being a disciple of God. Finally , a chaplain once told me that when you go through times of doubt it actually a positive thing which is really a time when you are growing in faith. It is a time when you realsie all your old ideas and beliefs have had to be challenged because they no longer are enough. You are forced to relook at what is faith and in actual fact by looking your faith is strengthened and in time becomes stronger. Just a few rambling thoughts. Oh and I never understand “traditional” concepts of prayer but I do believe prayer comes in many forms, that holding someones hand through times of stress such as illness is a prayer and in many ways for that person who is being supported a more powerul feeling prayer.

  2. ” When you’ve prayed for guidance, made a real effort to listen to God, prayed about and discussed it through with others who’ve encouraged you to follow a given path, you think you have some idea of what God wants. The failure of that has left me wondering just what my faith is about and the point of prayer.”

    Prayers made when you feel like that are the *most* spiritually valuable prayers. God is leaving you confused because it will do your soul good. Everything God does is to do your soul good.

  3. I think on these occasions, dear, one does well to remember the transcendent nature of God. His purpose may, and often does, appear inscrutable but, by his nature, we can be assured of his just, merciful and loving action. That was the confidence and the vindication of Job above the scoffing of his friends. The following BCP Prayer is something you might find useful,

    “Prevent us O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works, begun, continued and ended in thee, we may glorify thy Holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

    It is a prayer I am fond of and one that always makes sense. It also neatly summarises the concept of prevenient grace, commonly called (methinks) Providence, that which is total and whose purpose is often, if not mostly, unseen and realised ulitmately in eternity (requiring, perhaps, however, some human co-operation).

  4. Thank you for sharing. Plenty to say but I’m still pondering as I find much in common with what you wrote in my experiences, while they are different in events; thank you — for expressing what I struggle to as well as for the Rowan Williams‘ ‘membrane’ idea which is interesting.

    Wonderfuil to read of a moving sermon; I, in need of some miraculous help, went to a Catholic Church [I’m Orthodox] dedicated to St Benedict, a Saint and monastic order I have a great love for, and received a sermon unexpected in its application to me. Those moments, as do encounters with friends and others, keep the small flame of my faith flickering.

  5. Hi Ian, it’s good to hear from you. Hope life is treating you well 🙂

    I’m glad you found the post helpful. Like Laura was saying, I think, it’s those moments were somehow God’s love does break through that keep you going.

  6. I messaged you a few days ago on FB re similar stuff so won’t repost, just know that I’m thinking of you and TG

Comments are closed.