I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Monette Chilson’s reflection “Monk in the Darkness.”
It is hard to be a monk in the dark. Our old ways don’t work. We bump, flail and wail in our blindness. We can easily get stuck in the disorienting fog.
I want to usher in the light. Celebrate the joyful. Be grateful for the blessings. That’s the kind of monk I want to be in this world. The serene, meditating variety with a bemused half smile upon my face. But that’s not always the reality of my calling or yours. Sometimes, we are asked to be monkish when the world goes black. Our private world or one of the concentric circles that contain it—our family, our city, our nation or what feels like the entirety of Planet Earth.
I find that I can’t think or analyze my way through this blackness, these places that feel like voids that might consume me. These places so bleak that I want to be consumed. What I have come to know is that these places are portals. They are dark, yes, but their darkness is holy. They are the way through to whatever Spirit has for you next. If we can’t intellectualize this passage, then how are we to traverse it? Religious platitudes have not helped me find my way.
What has helped is embodying the darkness. Diving into it and exploring it. In practical terms, using a yogic approach—one that includes the physical practices and the more subtle spiritual ones—has been the way through for me. Monks all know there is more to the world than that which we can see with our eyes. In the darkness, though, we forget. We need ways of reminding ourselves. Movements to awaken our body. Mudras to help us wrap our hands around what we’d rather push away. Meditation to help us sink down deep into the darkness rather than running away.
All this to make the unseen reality visible to our spirits. When we see this way, the material happenings around us take on a spiritual significance we would otherwise miss. A bolt becomes a beacon. Let me explain by way of a story.
Angie—my healthy, happy 42-year-old sister—had been gone long enough that I was still marking time in hours—18, 24, 36 hours. Surviving each felt like a milestone. I was not yet engaged in the busy work of writing the obituary that would come with the morning light and would make it feel real in a way that words do for me. Standing in my son’s dark room, groping desperately around his bunk beds for a tiny pillow to which he’d entrusted his most recently lost tooth, I just wanted to fulfill my tooth fairy duties and retreat back inside myself.
Frustrated, I silently wailed at my inability to do this one simply thing, tears rolling down my face. I felt defeated and disproportionately bereft at my failure. That is when I felt it. Something brushed against my hair en route to the floor where it landed on the wood with a solid clunk. I reached down to where I’d heard its metallic landing. I felt something cold. And hard. And real. A bolt. And next to it, the elusive tooth pillow, with the tiny ivory kernel tucked safely inside.
And then, through my tears, I smiled. I mouthed a whispered thank you to Angie. Angie who we’d jokingly called MacGyver. Angie who could fix anything. Angie who was somehow both wildly artistic and exactingly analytical. Angie who’d just pulled a bolt out of thin air to put me back together one last time.
This is the kind of seeing we need in the darkness. I could have missed it entirely, dismissing the bolt as an oddity. We need to open our hearts to the miracles that fall from the sky even when we are feeling forlorn and forgotten. When any God we ever thought we knew seems to have evaporated. When things can’t get any worse, still there is holiness. We can feel desolation and receive divinely orchestrated messages at the same time. In fact, our despair may sharpen our ability to receive them. When we have reached the end of us, that is when God steps in. That is when we become monks in the darkness.