Into the valley of Tesco Click and Collect rode the Vauxhall Meriva……. but it nearly did not happen this week.
The day before the collection time I turned the key in the ignition, the engine gave a half-hearted chug and not so much died as just did not even think about living! The battery was dead even though it had been on the charger for a couple of days. So the RAC was called.
Our own batteries get very heavy use at this time of year through January and February – the darkest part of the winter and little chance to re-charge. There is still so much uncertainty in this time of pandemic and we can’t even plan holidays and things to look forward to to provide the light at the end of the winter tunnel. I for one am not booking bed & breakfasts and leaving deposits or purchasing tickets for the RSC in Stratford.
My own batteries last week felt decidedly depleted although I managed more than the ‘Meriva’s ‘chug’ and refusal to do anything. My recharging prayer walks have been curtailed by the lack of light and by the weather and I have been aware of ongoing lack of physical hugs from children and grandchildren- the screen is not quite the same as a pile of kids on the sofa for a story.
Then there is the draining business of the news which seems to delight in as much doom and gloom as it can dredge up from the depths. Racism in football, violence in homes, blind prejudice in the church, Covid…. always Covid and its consequences. The mad the bad and the ugly or the anti-vaxxers, the conspiracy theorists who blame 5G wireless, or that Covid is a hoax, or those who dont care and party on without a care for others.
And, amidst all that there are life’s standard woes of folks getting older, needing operations and specialist treatment and sometimes not able to get it. Is it any wonder we become alarmingly aware of our own mortality?
So how do we recharge? What is the equivalent to the RAC for replacing or recharging our worn batteries?
In the depths of last week, just an email from my spiritual director asking if I needed a chat put me on an upward trajectory…. just knowing I could off-load and praying about what I should talk about to them .
When we are really low the constant trickle charge of the solar powered office prayers are often not enough and a defibrillator charge of the heartfelt arrow prayers are needed, the ones where words are hard to find and are not really needed! You need to give yourself space… somehow! The temptation to stay on the treadmill of busy task-driven lives of service because we are needed is great – but as I was always taught doing St John’s Emergency Aid courses, “look after yourself first because if you become the emergency you will make the problem worse.”
So what we need is a positive charge – and an escape from the negative, the things that wear us down, the things that make us cross, the things even, that might make us feel a bit guilty for judging too harshly.
Do you remember the old dynamos they had on bicycle wheels for powering the lights? No real extra effort to the pedaling cyclist! In looking for the positive ourselves maybe with no extra effort we are also helping others to do the same.
so this lent my challenge is to take up being more positive, more thankful and ore praising; to look forward to longer days, better weather and brighter news. I am not aiming to give up anything….. but I might try to moan less or to rehearse my woes!
This week is all about Unknowing: Here is Friday’s letter…..
Descriptions of the “dark night of the soul” from the Spanish mystic John of the Cross (1542–1591) have become the marker by which many Christians measure their own experience of unknowing. He fits an entire life spent exploring God’s mystery into memorable poetry, and even dares to call unknowing “an ecstasy”! Here are several stanzas from his poem “Stanzas Concerning an Ecstasy Experienced in High Contemplation”:
1. I entered into unknowing
Yet when I saw myself there
Without knowing where I was
I understood great things;
I shall not say what I felt
For I remained in unknowing
Transcending all knowledge.
. . . .
4. He who truly arrives there
Cuts free from himself;
All that he knew before
Now seems worthless,
And his knowledge so soars
That he is left in unknowing
Transcending all knowledge.
. . . .
6. The knowledge in unknowing
Is so overwhelming
That wise men disputing
Can never overthrow it,
For their knowledge does not reach
To the understanding of not-
Transcending all knowledge. 
John’s poetry is exquisite in its humility—knowing that he does not know, can never know, and doesn’t even need to know! He goes so far as to call this dark night “a work of His mercy, / To leave one without understanding.”  John’s teaching contains paradoxes that are difficult to absorb, but modern readers have the good fortune of many good translations, including that of Mirabai Starr. Like the other friends whose work I have shared this week, Mirabai knows the via negativa, the way of unknowing, personally and intimately, and describes what happens between the soul and God in the “dark night:”
The soul in the dark night cannot, by definition, understand what is happening to her. Accustomed to feeling and conceiving of the Beloved in her own way, she does not realize that the darkness is a blessing. She perceives God’s gentle touch as an unbearable burden. She feels miserable and unworthy, convinced that God has abandoned her, afraid she may herself be turning against him. In her despair, the soul does not recognize that God is teaching her in a secret way now, a way with which the faculties of sense and reason cannot interfere.
At the same time that the soul in the night of spirit becomes paralyzed in spiritual practice, her love-longing for God begins to intensify. In the stillness left behind by its broken-open senses and intellect, a quality of abundance starts to grow inside the emptied soul. It turns out that the Beloved is longing for union with the lover as fervently as she has been yearning for him. . . . God will whisper to the soul in the depth of darkness and guide it through the wilderness of the Unknown until it is annihilated in the flames of perfect love.