Saturday, January 12, 2008

When the Heart Waits

During discussion with my centering prayer group today at St. Bart's I mentioned how helpful When the Heart Waits was for me. Another woman shared my enthusiasm. This really is a healing book, which is why I'm moving up this previous posting. I highly recommend this book.

What does a theatre critic do during a Broadway shutdown? She reads a lot more, for one thing.

I want to let you know about a book I’ve started reading. “When the Heart Waits” is a nonfiction book by Sue Monk Kidd whose novel “The Secret Life of Bees” is one of my favorite books. The subtitle of this one is “Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions,” and it was written before “Bees” and all its success.

“Heart” is a healing book for those of us facing the challenges and joys of middle age. Maya Angelou said the 50s are when we become who we were meant to be and I believe it.

But it’s not always easy, which is why this book is so helpful. Kidd writes about waiting as being the “missing link in the transformation process” and defines waiting as “the passionate and contemplative crucible in which new life and spiritual wholeness can be birthed.” In this “deep and beautiful work of soulmaking,” she shows us how to wait actively. I love that idea.

She describes the impetus for her midlife spiritual journey as “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 . . . I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.”

I’ve read a lot about this time of life, the idea that the years up until we’re 40 or 50 are about establishing ourselves out there in the world, and the years following are about connecting to our inner selves. Kidd says this is when “one is summoned to inner transformation, to a crossing over from one identity to another.” But “rarely do significant shifts come without a sense of being lost in dark woods.”

She quotes Jung that “every midlife crisis is a spiritual crisis, that we are called to die to the old self (ego), the fruit of the first half of life and liberate the new man or woman within us.” And from Jung’s “Stages of Life:” “we take this step with the false presuppositions that our truths and ideas will serve as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the progromme of life’s morning.”

Jung divided life into these two phases -- the morning in which we relate to the world and develop our ego and the afternoon when we connect to the inner world and develop our full and true selves. He likened the midlife transition to a difficult birth.

“In our youth we set up inner myths and stories to live by, but around the midlife juncture these patterns begin to crumble,” Kidd writes. “It feels like a collapsing of all that is, but it’s holy quaking.” She says we must find the courage to say yes to this new self aching to be born.

And this requires waiting. “I wondered if waiting was the ‘missing link’ in spiritual evolution, the lost and forgotten experience crucial to becoming fully human, fully Christian, fully ourselves.” She reminds us that when important times of transition came for Jesus, he “entered enclosures of waiting -- the wilderness, a garden, the tomb.”

She describes waiting as being “passive and passionate.” “It means descending into self, into God, into the deeper labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely.” Then we can hear “the sheer eloquence of life’s ability to speak to us.” It is “the experience of incubating what needs to be born.”

The journey from old self to new requires patience. “We have to let go and tap our creative stillness,” Kidd writes. “Most of all we have to trust that our scarred hearts really do have wings.”

On a weekend retreat I attended close to a decade ago called “Jung and Christianity: Shadow and Conversion,” the leader told us that we cannot have a spiritual life without waiting, and Kidd makes this clear too. “Waiting seemed the rawest kind of agony. I wanted God to simply whisk away the masks I had spent most of my life fashioning, to hoist up from my repressed well the lost and neglected parts of myself, to solve my problems, heal my wounds, and alleviate the inexplicable sense of discontent and pain I was feeling.”

We need to learn to “dwell in the unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty. . . they are the seedbed of creativity and growth.”

She quotes Duke Divinity Professor John H. Westerhoff about the dangers of failing to appreciate this need to look for continual conversion: “No aspect of thinking on conversion is more foreign to the American evangelical experience than this stress on conversion as a process. . . Evangelicals emphasize emotion and an initial movement. This moment is celebrated, recalled, and when the experience fades, recaptured. But Christian tradition does not agree. . . Conversion is a continuous and lifelong process.”

This idea was emphasized in that wonderful Jung and Christianity retreat, that each time we go through a conversion we are strengthen for the next one. Kidd says: “Whenever you undo a false pattern of believing, God seems to come with fresh insights and images that unleash new energy and enable you to move ahead. . . To create newness you have to cover the soul and let grace rise. You must come to the place where there’s nothing to do but brood, as God brooded over the deep, and pray and be still and trust that the holiness that ferments the galaxies is working in you too. . . Waiting is the yeasting of the human soul. Jungian analyst James Hillman says that our ‘soul is the patient part of us.’ Only as we go inward and get in touch with it will we be able to authentically wait.”

I look forward to journeying with the rest of this book, and hope these thoughts help you find grace in the waiting, and joy in discovering your true selves. God bless!

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