I know I am at the start of another long journey. There is no way out of the landscape of grief except straight through the heart of it, even though we may construct all kinds of useful diversions to try and avoid it.
These last few weeks I have been feeling this invitation to move even more deeply into the contemplative life, and to spend even more time than I already do with dreams, darkness, wild places, and the wisdom of the body. There is a call from deep within me to claim these as essential parts of my being in ways I haven’t fully done so. Yet up until now I have been resisting a bit because I have had a sense that by following this path I was going to be asked to release my hold on some things I wasn’t quite ready to give up.
Little did I know that this letting go meant being really stripped bare and also losing a precious companion. And yet, in spite of this sense of profound loss, or maybe even because of it, I am more ready than ever to dive deeply into the darkness.
As I sat vigil with Duke on Saturday, I kept imagining the Great Night that he was going to be released into. I know there are many who embrace the Light as the most appropriate metaphor for God – in the Christian tradition Jesus says in John’s Gospel “I am the Light of the world” and in Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbalah talks about God as a mirror from which shines the brilliant light. We even talk in religious language about darkness as representing the forces of evil, the Dark Side, the powers of darkness. Yet, I am finding darkness lately to be so much more comforting and inviting than light. It has nothing to do with depression or the like. This summer with its long sunny days has been difficult. For me, the vast night sky, the endless underworld of the sea, and the sleep world of dreams speak to me more clearly of God’s Mystery and Being. The glorious darkness of womb-spaces where new life is slowly and gently sprouted, that place of fertility and juiciness and hope where we begin to birth new possibilities long before we even realize the shape of them.
Duke was for me a window into the otherness of God. Although hardly a wild creature, still there was a profound soul connection that drew us ever more deeply together, and drew me deeper into the wildness of God, God as untamed Mystery, God who dwells in the Great Night and whispers to me in my dreams. I have been longing for the darker days of fall, cool rainy days to curl up by the fire, walking among the falling leaves as they announce the beauty and radiance of death. Each footstep a prayer. Each breath an offering.
Duke has changed me by his presence in my life. His death will change me as well. Perhaps I will come to grow even more comfortable with the dark mysteries of the holy, with the language of dreams, and how to navigate the landscape of grief with grace and surrender. A landscape we are each compelled to enter at some point during our lives, perhaps many times.
The poems below by Rilke have been sitting in my journal these last couple of weeks and now invite me firmly into the night. They are wonderful, luscious poems about the God of darkness. In the darkness, like Rilke, I begin to feel wide and powerful, and my God is dark like Rilke’s, “like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.” Yes, indeed, I also have great “faith in nights.”
-Christine Valters Paintner
I love the dark hours of my being
in which my senses drop into the deep.
I have found in them, as in old letters,
my private life, that is already lived through,
and become wide and powerful now, like legends.
Then I know that there is room in me
for a second huge and timeless life.
You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything:
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them!-
powers and people-and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.I have faith in nights.
…no matter how deeply I go down into myself
my God is dark, and like a webbing made
of a hundred roots that drink in silence.
I know that my trunk rose from his warmth, but that's all,
because my branches hardly move at all
near the ground, and just wave a little in the wind.
-Rainer Maria Rilke