Kathleen Hirsch | Lent
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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Lent

Resurrection

She couldn’t remember how long she had moved through life like an open, well-disguised, wound.  She was articulate and beautiful, and her pride was a rapier intelligence.  She’d have made a good litigator.  I know, because she could reduce a theological proposition to dust in a heartbeat with one of her challenging questions.

A psychologist by profession, she had exhausted every avenue of self-analysis without finding relief for the problems that beset her:  a push-me-pull-you relationship with a partner, alienation from her family, a sense of dislocation.  She came to my door feeling numb.

She told me that she wanted to “try God.”

By this, I soon discovered, she meant, “take God on.”

We spoke together over many months, discussing books, ways of praying, ideas, Scripture.  It was an intellectual dance, and I began to see that it paralleled an exterior life of perpetual advance and retreat.  She stayed in one place for only a year or two, laying plans to leave before she’d settled in.  She took up multiple partners.  She was a master escape artist.  Always, she had an out.  And she’d always taken it, moving away, finding a new job, a new city.

One day as I sat across from her, feeling her vulnerability behind the mask of calm and cool, I asked her, “Why are you here?”

She hadn’t expected this.  Her dance partner had dropped back, to look more closely at the steps we were repeating over and over again.

It was a labyrinthine dance of pain, but also of safety.  Round and round.  An exercise in propping up her problems, or images of God, only to them strike down, to reject or dabble, or explore as intellectual propositions.

We sat with a lot of silence that day.  Words were incapable of reaching into the place where the dance ended.

After some time she asked, in a small, exposed voice, “Where was God when I needed him?”

It was the first expression of genuine feeling I’d heard from her in all those many months.

None of us escape the desolate hours.  How many times have I asked the same question?  Wakened in the middle of the night feeling existentially alone, moved through weeks not knowing in hindsight what got me through?  Her adolescence had been shattered by a mentally-ill parent around whom the family navigated, with many raw edges.   What died in her during those years wasn’t just hope, and it wasn’t just faith.  What died was the idea of God as a source of love, comfort, affirmation.

She’d been wandering ever since, walled off from the worst of her pain by her brilliant mask, never daring for a moment to release her grip on the strategies that had “worked” – at least, had gotten her through.  But at a price.

She left, and I didn’t know if I would see her again.

Time passed.

Recently, she came to visit.

“I’m thinking of staying, getting a new apartment, “she smiled for the first time in months.  “I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to leave.”

This wasn’t all.

“I saw my mother a few weeks ago,” she went on. “She told me that she hopes I’ll stay, and for the first time in years I heard this as a genuine expression of her love.”

Tears started running down her cheeks.

“Something has shifted,” she told me.

Sometimes the dance needs to stop, the masks be removed.  Only in this way can we find our way back to the beating heart that hides, protecting itself, sparring with shadows.  It’s very hard to do this alone.  We need each other to name the dance of our harsh inner tapes, our inability to forgive, or spinning in circles – however elegant or articulate.

What had changed? I asked her.

“I’m not entirely sure,” she said, “but I seem able to appreciate everything I have more fully.  I’m paying attention to things, realizing that I actually like some of the people I work with.  I have a lot to be grateful for.”

“God never left you,” I told her, able to share what I have had to learn over and over again in my own life.  “You asked where God was when you needed him, in your darkest times.  God was there.  It was God who was weeping in you.”

This is the discovery.   When we slip out from under our rocks of hurt and unworthiness and anger and shame, when we allow the light of a love without agenda to crack our stone walls, something amazing happens.  We let in a power that can destroy our self-made tombs, and begin to emerge into something bigger and more real than we’d imagined.

It is scary to do this.  It’s much easier, I suspect, to be a blade of grass than a human being.  But the newly greening grass helps to remind us:  Resurrection is all around us, quiet as a smile and a direct glance where once there was evasion, self-protective wit, a distance of fear.  It takes a friend, a teacher, a gardener, someone who is genuinely interested in the answer to the question, “Who are you really?  Tell me your story.  Why are you here?”

 

Writing in the Dust

My house just now is covered in a fine layer of dust.  Plaster dust.  The long-awaited paint job to freshen things up after a long winter.

And so it is with the writing life and the life of prayer.  Long periods of waiting, little change in the horizon, showing up, keeping things dusted and in a state of readiness….when suddenly one day we can see something like dust settling over the familiar, and can run our fingers through a substance that holds our mark — for an hour or a day.

This, the legibility of the soul in the life in time.

Yesterday, my experience of this gift was a day spent with a group of young writers and their faculty in the Creative Writing Program at The College of the Holy Cross.

The earnestness and energy was palpable.  I gave my craft talk, and then the writing began.  The students were given little slips of paper, containing a word or two as prompt which the novelist Julianna Baggott and I had come up with.  The students let it rip, creating spontaneous, anonymous writings that were then placed into three little mason jars, mixed up, and aloud, one by one.

The effect was mesmerizing.  It was as if we were hearing chant, ancient shards of scripture unearthed from clay jars and recited to the assembly.

What worked about this was its rawness and authenticity.  Nothing premeditated, polished, tailored.  As pure as prayer, and not unlike.

How beautiful, in a world of overworked cant.

And so a fine dust settled over my familiar, and gave me this inspiration:

What if we were to make such a practice during Lent?  A daily “short” — inspired by the newspaper, or a poem, scripture, or an image that arises while we feed the cat?

Just that.  On a small, 4 x 4 square of paper, or an index card.

Try it.

 

Kathleen Hirsch Cruxnow.com

Bright lights and shadows

I sometimes wonder if seeing in the light isn’t harder for us than seeing in the dark. This season’s political circus and refugee crises make it difficult to turn from the chronic glare to the dimmer refuges. Our gridlocked calendars only make it worse. We are like deer in the headlights — those trained on us, and those we train on ourselves.

At the moment, my Lenten practice involves stripping down my schedule. Reducing my list of lunches, volunteer meetings, charitable dinners — the extras that accumulate around my hours of actual work — is far more difficult than I’d expected.

The sheer volume of activity has forced me to ask myself a hard question: What was I thinking, when I said yes to more than I could manage?

Ah. Isn’t that the question?READ MORE

Desert Experience, Suffering, Gratitude, Kathleen Hirsch

The unvarnished desert

Recently a dear friend e-mailed, “It really ticks me off that I have to share this news with people I love.” Her cancer has returned.

There are many ways to enter the deserts of life. Most of them are involuntary.

The longed-for play date is canceled without explanation, leaving a lonely child in despair. The wife sticks a note by the empty closet: I am gone. An abusive father dies, leaving us to resolve our wounds alone.

None of us ask for grievous inner dislocation.READ MORE