And yet, I’m gradually and painfully coming to understand what John of the Cross called “luminous darkness,” a concept I refer to in perhaps a more “secular” way as delicious agony. These words are an attempt to describe the coexistence of deep suffering and intense joy in my life.
As I enter what Richard Rohr, in his priceless book Falling Upward, calls my second half of life, I find myself having less need or interest in eliminating the negative or the fearful, holding on to old hurts and habits, or feeling any need to punish people.
It cannot be emphasized enough, it is not only my 54 years on this earth that have accomplished this feat, but also the careful and weekly nurturing over the past year and a half by a qualified and brilliant psychologist.
Here are a few bullet points to illustrate this idea of the second half of life. This life of daily happy sadness. At the risk of oversimplification, I continue to find highlighting ideas the most effective way to communicate to our fast-paced world of social networking.
- The Eight Beatitudes speak to me much more than the Ten Commandments.
- Most frontal attacks on evil just produce another evil in myself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot, and incites a lot of push-back from those I have attacked.
- I have a spectrum of responses now, and they are not all predictable, as is the case with my previous knee-jerk responses.
- Law is still necessary, of course, but it is not my guiding star, or even close. It has been wrong and cruel too many times.
- Life is much more spacious now, the boundaries having been enlarged by the constant addition of new experiences and relationships.
- Simplicity has its own kind of happiness and clarity, but much of it is expressed in non-verbal terms, and only when really needed. If I talk too much or too loud, I am not exhibiting wisdom.
- I find happiness in commonalities, which has become much more obvious to me now; and I do not need to dwell on the differences between people or exaggerate the problems.
- I do not have to stand out, make defining moves, or be better than anyone else.
- I no longer have to prove that I or my group is the best, that my ethnicity is superior, that my religion is the only one God loves, or that my role and place in society deserve superior treatment.
- In the words of Elizabeth Seton, “I want to live simply so that others can simply live.”
- Where I once worshipped my raft, now I am content in the shore where it has taken me, where I once defended the signposts, now I have arrived at where the signposts pointed.
- I now enjoy the sunset itself instead of fighting over which finger points to it most accurately, quickly, or definitively.
St. Augustine dramatically portrays this in his Confessions,
You were within, but I was without. You were with me, but I was not with you. So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped.
It has taken such gasping several times in my life to eventually rest in a happy sadness: I am sad because I now hold the pain of my failures; but there is happiness because life is somehow—on some levels—still “very good.”
As Thomas Merton puts it so eloquently,
It does not matter much [now], because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there….We are [now] invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.