When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions
Overhead a thickening of clouds wreathed everything in grayness. It was February, when the earth of South Carolina seems mired in the dregs of winter. I had been walking for miles; I don’t know how many. I could feel neither my toes inside my shoes, nor the wind on my face. I could feel nothing at all but an intense aching in my soul. For some months I had been lost in a baffling crisis of spirit. Back in the autumn I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in my depths were crying out. A whole chorus of voices. Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me, and they came with a force and dazzle that I couldn’t contain. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born. I was standing on the shifting ground of midlife, having come upon that time in life when one is summoned to an inner transformation, to a crossing over from one identity to another. When change-winds swirl through our lives, especially at midlife, they often call us to undertake a new passage of the spiritual journey: that of confronting the lost self- our true self. They call us to come home to ourselves, to become who we really are. That winter of my discontent, I had no real idea of any of this... I kept walking through the fogged afternoon light as if the mere ritual of putting one foot in front of the other would lead me out of my pain. I buried my hands in the pockets of my coat and watched the wind blow a paper cup along the gutter. ..The familiar circles of my life left me with a suffocating feeling. My marriage suddenly seemed stale, unfulfilling; my religious structures, stifling. Things that used to matter no longer did; things that had never mattered were paramount. My life had curled up in the mark of a question.... I burrowed into the wind, my head down. I happened to look up again as I passed beneath the branches of a dogwood tree, and my eyes fell upon a curious appendage suspended from a twig just over my head. I kept walking. No, stop...look closer. Not knowing what else to do but obey the inner impulse, I backed up and looked again. I took one step toward it, then two, until I was so close that the fog of my breath encircled it. I had come upon a cocoon.
I was caught suddenly by a sweep of reverence, by a sensation that made me want to sink to my knees. For somehow I knew that I had stumbled upon an epiphany, a strange gracing of my darkness. I took my forefinger and touched the bottom tip of the tiny brown chrysalis and felt something like light move in me. In that moment God seemed to speak to me about transformation. About the descent and emergence of the soul. ..I broke the twig from the limb and carried the chrysalis home. For this was my cocoon. My darkness. My soul incubating within. Back home I carefully taped the twig with the cocoon to the branch of a crab-apple tree in my backyard. Then I went inside. I stood at the window watching the cocoon, which hung in the winter air like an upside-down question mark. That was the moment... I understood. Really understood. Crisis, change, all the myriad upheavals that blister the spirit and leave us groping– they aren’t voices simply of pain but also of creativity. And if we would only listen, we might hear such times beckoning us to a season of waiting, to the place of fertile emptiness.