Tag Archives: Gerald May

Look what love has done to me…

Richard Rohr, in his series on hope in the darkness, writes:

What I’ve learned is that not-knowing and often not even needing to know is—surprise of surprises—a deeper way of knowing and a deeper falling into compassion. This is surely what the mystics mean by “death” and why they talk of it with so many metaphors… Maybe that is why Jesus praised faith even more than love; maybe that is why St. John of the Cross called faith “luminous darkness.” Yes, love is the final goal but ever deeper trust inside of darkness is the path for getting there.

My good friend Gerald May shed fresh light on the meaning of John of the Cross’ phrase “the dark night of the soul.”  He said that God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness, because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery/transformation/God/grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process. No one oversees his or her own demise willingly, even when it is the false self that is dying. God has to undo our illusions secretly, as it were, when we are not watching and not in perfect control, say the mystics…

As James Finley… says, “The mystic is not someone who says, ‘Look what I have done!’ The mystic is one who says, ‘Look what love has done to me. There’s nothing left but God’s intimate love giving itself to me as me.’”

I seem myself to be travelling through this kind of territory again. The change that autumn brings is a constant reminder that God – and life in God consequently – is more verb than noun.

I know that I am continually being reminded at the moment that the word sacrament can equally well be rendered as “holy mystery”, and that, at least in the understanding of the Eastern Orthodox communion, the seven traditional sacraments of Catholic Christianity are only the main ones: that God can hallow what he will hallow, and that he touches humanity through many material means at different times. How this occurs is a mystery, but it does. The light of this evening, almost still after the earlier storms, is one.

I don’t seem to be able to predict things at all on the far side of this blessed gathering dark. All I know is that trust is at the centre of any response that may be being asked of me. The shadows lengthen with that lovely softening of dusk, and as the light diminishes, so a kind of night vision becomes inevitable and almost easy, for

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8.28)


On giving up…

It must be an act of grace, or of something beyond the individual will, which enables certain people to give up at certain times. Whether the giving up occurs gradually or swiftly, with great fanfare or absolute stillness, giving up is not something that can wilfully be done. It can be allowed or it can be resisted, but it cannot be done. And that is where hope lies. Not hope in continuing effort, but hope for some kind of mercy. Hope that today or next month, or five years from now there will come a time when the struggle will be sacrificed…

There is always room for great hope. For at every level of despair there is the possibility of giving up. In the midst of every dimension of delusion there are sparkles of sanity…. In the early years of life, giving up usually takes the form of faith. A leaping forward into a belief that one is loved, accepted, forgiven and redeemed just as one is, with nothing special needing to be done. In later years, giving up more often comes from despair. From the wisdom of realizing that no amount of continuing effort, no amount of fixing, will enable one to ‘get it all together.’ Despair then is forever a doorway to life.

Gerald May, Simply Sane: The Spirituality of Mental Health

We so often in our culture view giving up as the last thing we should be prepared to do. “Never give up!” we advise the cancer sufferer, the depressive. “Never give up!” we encourage the one struggling with the failing marriage, the failing business. “Of course, I never gave up…” says the hero returning from the war, the survivor hauled from the shipwreck.

But if we are honest, we know the state of not-giving-up is not something we can always achieve, nor is it healthy to try cling to it regardless. Life is given to us only for a while, and to give up in the face of terminal illness is sometimes a victory far more than a defeat. There are times in any endeavour when our only access to grace is in surrender – where we have to accept that try as we may, the marriage is over, the business is going to the wall.

Of course I am not advocating spinelessness. Of course we try. Of course we do our very best to keep going, to keep afloat in the storm, to save our life’s work, our life’s partnership. But sometimes it can’t be done. Sometimes even our own life cannot be saved – in the end that will come to us all – and then what shall we do?

There are seasons. “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted… a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away…” (Ecclesiastes 3.2ff) But we don’t want to accept the seasons: we want to buy fruit out of season, eat strawberries at Christmas, parsnips in high summer.

We run on desire, so much of our lives. We “want/don’t want” as Toni Bernard puts it. This refusal to give up can so often come down to this hunger, this wanting, and the suffering and dissatisfaction that come inevitably with wanting, with the sense that if only we can have this, or avoid that, then everything we be all right, that then we shall be peace.

Peace is grace. Grace is love, “strong as death” – far stronger. Love, grace, peace – these will outlast death. Even despair, if it is released, becomes a different kind of hope. Let it go, whatever it is, for only then can it be given back, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over…” (Luke 6.38)