“I had grasped God’s garment in the void
but my hand slipped
on the rich silk of it.
The ‘everlasting arms’ my sister loved to remember
must have upheld my leaden weight
from falling, even so,
for though I claw at empty air and feel
nothing, no embrace,
I have not plummetted.”
This masterful poem was penned by Denise Levertov, a late-in-life Catholic convert. I only recently discovered her creative and compelling works and have become quite enamored with many of them.
It reminds me, vaguely, of the delightful hagiography The Life of St. Anthony by Athanasius. During my senior year, as I experienced the rash of brutal and persistent nightmares that lasted for about five months, there were moments in which I could feel a dark vitriol building inside me that urged me to cry out that the nightmares were stronger than God, that Satan was, apparently, too powerful to be stopped.
In St. Anthony, the eponymous character is tormented in a cave by a demonic cabal – his body broken and his God disdained. The attack leads to great insight, however, and the next time he comes under fire he has quite the rejoinder for the forces of darkness. Even as he is tortured he declares to them that if they had any real power, why not just strip him of his salvation and drag him to hell?
You see, he knew they couldn’t. All they could do was sling blows and insults at him to tempt him toward despair, and he could overcome that. He never says that he wasn’t in excruciating pain, never says he wasn’t afflicted, but he was able to, somehow, see through the agony to the power he had in Christ. He never looked back. He goes on to become a total boss – a veritable anti-demon Jedi Master – and never ceases to wage war on all that would declare God weak.
Although my latent Jedi genes have not yet awakened (they’re my last hope now that I’ve given up on ever getting a letter from Hogwarts), I am still encouraged by his perspective. I can unashamedly acknowledge the pain that sometimes courses through my psyche, but I must even more boldly proclaim the power of Christ who is my shelter and strength.
I can admit that I feel as if I am held by nothing but absence, while praising the God who I know has kept me from plummetting. And trusting, always trusting, that some day I will see the truth of things clearly, even if it means waiting until I finally behold the face of Jesus as the songs of the saints fill the glorified air.
P.S. I have friends from Wheaton visiting me this week, and am thus taking a break from the situation at church. I talked with an elder on Monday, and it was a very encouraging conversation in which I found much to be thankful for. However, there is still a lot of work to do. It’s been quite a growing experience, so praise God for that.