For the last couple of weeks, more nights than not, I have found myself awakened from sleep at 3am. I am one of those lucky humans who typically sleeps well, and soundly, through the night. But I find that during times of intense discernment and transition, times when life is particularly full of uncertainty and unknowing, these dark and quiet hours tend to offer themselves to me. (Even when I’d quite rather sleep them away.) I generally respond, first, by trying to refuse this offer, tossing and turning and trying to go back to sleep. But sometimes I’m able to shift from resisting to welcoming these hours of wakefulness. And when I do, the dark stillness of these late night/ early morning hours becomes space for prayer, vigil, deepening my attention. Sometimes I light a candle, and invite the Spirit to intercede in sighs too deep for words. Sometimes I whisper aloud the places and people I’m aware of who are hurting. Sometimes I whisper lists of gratitude, sources of beauty and delight. Sometimes I wonder who else, known and unknown to me, is awake in the night, sleepless, vigiling. Dear friends: The world is so broken. The world is so beautiful. Life is so precious. Life is so precarious. We can feel so very alone in this life we live together. Hardest times can open us to holiest wisdoms.
Rilke wrote, “I love the dark hours of my being. My mind deepens into them. There I can find, as in old letters, the days of my life, already lived, and held like a legend, and understood. Then the knowing comes: I can open to another life that’s wide and timeless. So I am sometimes like a tree rustling over a gravesite and making real the dream of the one its living roots embrace: a dream once lost among sorrows and songs.”
Rilke writes of a knowing that comes when we deepen into darkness, when we listen and lean into all that is unresolved in our hearts, and lives, and world. Not rushing to answers, but staying with questions. Longing, and loss, and love, swirling together. Hope and fear, uncertainty and deep knowing, lingering, inseparable. Like Jacob, who wrestles through the night until daybreak comes, and with it, a blessing.
Henri Nouwen writes, “Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, ‘How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?’ There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.”
Friends, I confess: so often and too easily I confuse blessing with clarity, certainty, a way through, a way forward, a great beam, a sure solution. I too long for answers and assurances and guarantees. But, as Anne Lamott writes, “The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” Faith is a verb, a practice of trust, a practice of sticking with uncertainties, and breathing deep, and leaning in, and holding, and being held, and vigiling with dreams easily lost among sorrows and songs, step by step by step by step. Blessing meets us in the wrestling. Divinity draws near in the dark.
When fear holds me captive, when I find myself awake in the dark hours before dawn, I am practicing remembering that the words “sacred” and “scared” are only one letter’s difference, and what a difference one tiny shift can make.
So, dear one, the next time you are awake in the dark, remember you are less alone than you feel. The next time you are scared, dear one, remember the Sacred is drawing near, and something is shifting. Deepen into the darkness. Listen to the longings that reside in shadows and mystery. Whisper prayers into each haunting uncertainty. Breathe deep, and remember with each breath you breathe in Spirit, ruach, pneuma. Feel your heart beating in your chest, and remember you share a heartbeat with God, and for this moment, just this moment, this knowing just may be enough.