|Publisher:||The Crossroad Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
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Dear Heart, Come Home
The Path of Midlife Spirituality
By Joyce Rupp
The Crossroad Publishing CompanyCopyright © 1996 Joyce Rupp
All rights reserved.
Midlife Interiority: Going Deeper
Each one of us must reach inside ourselves to find our own power sources.
— Sandra Ingerman
is where it is dark
where there is mystery
where the way is not known
where it is easy to become fearful
and even turn back.
within your heart,
there's always strength to go in
where truth becomes known
where your love holds me close
where I need not be afraid.
my hidden self,
Deep, Deep down
in the womb of Yourself:
take me there, God.
I want to go.
— Joyce Rupp
On the cover of one of my journals I placed a print of a woman standing in solitude by a large, open window. She faces outward, looking into a mysterious Monet-like woods. There is a numinous quality to her attentive presence. This mood speaks to me of the movement between the conscious and the unconscious, of connecting the outer world and the inner world. There is a sense of mystery and wonder. Whatever it is that the woman is observing, it is obviously reaching back into the depths of her soul. Something or Someone beckons to her and holds her there at the window.
I was attracted to that print because I felt that I had some of those same soul-reaching moments in my midlife growth. I believe that in midlife God calls to the soul: "Move beyond what you know. Now is the time to risk the hidden path of going deeper. Go into the stillness and solitude within you. Come, find your true Self." This is a call to become more grounded or rooted in our strengths and our wisdoms — those inner treasures that wait to be discovered as we enter unknown, inner territory and reflect upon our life.
I never planned to "go deeper," but the call to do so came very forcefully while I was in the desert, a most appropriate place to seek the deeper things of life. I was forty-one and had gone to the Desert House of Prayer to make an eight-day retreat. I went with an overwhelming tiredness from all the rush and run of life. I felt I could have slept for months. My bones hurt from overwork and my heart ached for solitude. I was out of sorts with myself and still hurting from a painful, final break with a mentor and trusted confidant of my spiritual journey, one whose life choices had left me disillusioned and heartbroken. In reality, I was struggling with many pieces of my life and this particular hurt was just one of them. At the same time, I felt a strong trust that God would provide opportunities for my healing. I believed I would receive some inner direction if I stopped running long enough to listen to this deeper part of myself.
I walked rather aimlessly among the wild desert plants and creatures on the first days of retreat, seeking refuge from my burnout and from the still-deep pain within me. One day, midway through the retreat, I found myself sitting on a large boulder, confused and anxious about my relationship with God. Why did this relationship seem scattered and distant? Why did I feel so hollow and unnourished? I knew that I longed for greater intimacy and union with God yet I had tasted none of this for a long time. What was God asking of me? What more was needed? Had I failed in some way? Had I not done my part to urge greater communion? What was missing and how could I find it?
As I sat there, two words suddenly stood up in my soul as clear as Orion on a cloudless night. "Go deeper," they said. I listened for more. Nothing there. Only those same words with greater emphasis: "Go deeper. It is time." Tears gushed up as I felt the curtains of my inner life part and Fear come out to make a first of many appearances: "What does this mean? Can I do this? How will I do it? What will I find? How much will it hurt?" How ironic, I thought, that I who have longed for God and for the truth of myself would now be terrified of the invitation to head in that precise direction.
I sat on the boulder most of that day. I mulled over "go deeper." I ate my lunch. I argued with the voices of fear and anxiety. I wrote down my thoughts and feelings. I pondered. I grimaced at what I figured would be a lot of future pain. I cried. I thought back to my first day in the desert to the anxious fears I'd felt about getting lost as I hiked in unknown territory, of being bitten by snakes and scorpions, or being attacked by the wild pigs. By day three I was at home there and had almost none of those fears so I knew — at least in my head — that fear could be sent on its way.
Then I delved back into my memory and looked at how I had known God. I had often experienced this God as unconditionally loving, compassionate, and faithful, a constant source of inner strength and courage. I knew that I could trust this God with my journey.
The more I reflected on "go deeper," the more I understood this to mean "go deeper into the heart of God" which was mysteriously also the heart of myself. I felt somewhat comforted by this. I also sensed that this was a call to listen ever more closely, which meant I'd have to be very quiet and attentive.
Finally, before the sun set in the low Arizona sky, I realized that this day was an immensely graced one. I asked God if I could do it, if I could really go deeper. It seemed that God said: "If you want to, you can." It was then that I stood on the hillside in the desert and praised God who had visited me, who had revealed the call to go more deeply into the divine heart by going more deeply into my own. I stood there and I proclaimed:
On this desert hillside in Arizona, I hereby pledge my love to you again, God of my life. I accept the invitation to go more deeply into your heart. I consider it a wonderful honor, responsibility, and challenge. I know you will give me what I need in order to do this. (P.J.)
All of this may sound dramatic but it didn't feel that way then, and it still doesn't. The call to go deeper was very real on that day, however. It was a turning point for me, offering me something that I had longed for but was unable to name: a new way to be with God and a coming home to my truest Self. I had received a desperately needed hope for my midlife journey.
I left the retreat but the words did not leave me. They pursued me back into my work and invaded the territory of my life. During the next three or four weeks after the retreat those two words, "go deeper," kept surging into my consciousness. I gradually felt more secure and less fearful about the call, although fear, doubts, and questions returned at various times to hound me. I lost sight of this call many times in the coming years, but I kept coming back to it, or rather, it kept coming back to me. When I tried to run from going deeper, my dreams would catch me, or a circumstance of life would demand that I return to the depths.
God held me to my pledge and gave me golden discoveries that I never could have anticipated. At times, these discoveries were tensed with pain and turmoil; at other times, they were riddled with mystery and confusion. Yet again, they were giant sighs of relief and welcomed bits of truth.
Throughout the journey of going deeper, constant images arose to encourage, challenge, and confirm my process. I had never enjoyed rainy days. I was a "sunshine person." Surprisingly, I began to feel at home with rain, sensing a certain stillness inside of me on cloudy, moist days. Rain gradually became an image of comfort, a companion to the silence within. I made many journal entries about rain. One spring day I wrote:
late March rain
threatens to soon be snow.
all through the dark night
it made its mark on earth.
I look out my window
and the concrete walls
are wet with the falling.
they patter away on the rooftop
like an old friend calling home.
I pause to say hello
and feel welcome in my heart.
come again, I say to the rain,
you gentle me and lift me up,
or is it rather, you send me down,
down to the stillness inside,
down to where I need to be ... (P.J.)
Another image that took on great significance for me was that of the moon. I had always focused on the sun with its energy and vitality. The reflective stillness of moonlight did not draw me until I heard the midlife call to go deeper. Over and over I experienced the moon as a comforting presence that wooed me and watched over me. I relished night walks in the subdued light of the full moon. I felt a pull from the moon that was directly related to the pull I was sensing from God:
I am held captured
by a Power far beyond me.
up and up it rises
like a full moon in October.
I cannot turn away.
It holds me in its glow
and energizes me
in a compelling sort of way.
Words I know not what
surge through my being,
demanding an entrance
into the domain of my life.
It is you, God, this I know.
You are the Power surging.
You are the Compelling Presence.
It is you who hold me in attention.
I am lost in the aura.
I am taken to the Deep.
It matters not what the meaning,
only the truth of the meeting.
You have arisen in my heart,
I have been drawn into Love.
It is profoundly draining.
It is magnificently sacred. (P.J.)
Sometimes the images that spoke to the call to go deeper were harsh ones that challenged me and led me to feel the pain of the interior process. Oftentimes when I entered the deepening places of myself I experienced a wordless unknown that took a long time to be named. I couldn't tell what was happening inside. I only knew that I felt restless, sad, and unsettled:
what is it in me?
all this long week
the unnamed ache
the almost tears
the unbloody wound
the hollow space
what is it in me?
something is crying out
to be heard
to be felt
just the early 40's rising up?
I do not want to deny
I do not want to ignore
I want to be free
I want to be who I am
should I go deep?
must I look long?
I wonder (P.J.)
The image of roots also spoke to me but in a much different way. This image allowed me to explore what I believed and valued while trusting that I would still have some solid base to my life even if I had to discard a lot of what I had accumulated in my earlier years. I felt very shaky at times as I surveyed those beliefs and assumptions but I always took comfort when I visualized the image of the firm, deep roots of my soul. I trusted those roots as I laid out my beliefs, discarding some, rearranging others, and gradually accepting what I perceived to be basic to my life. I also grew in being comfortable with gray areas and with questions that did not have answers. This growth was another one of the blessings of going deeper.
Midlife: A Call to Go Within
I did not know at the time of my desert experience that the journey to the interior is an essential part of the midlife process. I learned from my own journey, and from others, that interiority is an inescapable dimension of growth for those who choose to respond to the midlife call. This movement into the unknown territory of our lives is an invitation to explore the vast interior of our psyche where many treasures are waiting to be found in the unconscious. A male respondent compared this to the image of a mine where "secrets, difficulties, wonderment, and decisions" are found (Q.R. — Questionnaire Response). Author Sue Monk Kidd recognizes this call as she asks these questions:
Is it possible, I asked myself, that I'm being summoned from some deep and holy place within? Am I being asked to enter a passage in the spiritual life — the journey from false self to true self? Am I being asked to dismantle old masks and patterns and unfold a deeper, more authentic self — the one God created me to be? Am I being compelled to disturb my inner universe in quest of the undiscovered being who clamors from within?
While it may be more natural for the introverted person to go inward, the extroverted person is also drawn in this direction. It is here in the deeper part of us, Jung said, that a person goes when there is great work that needs to be done. Thus, midlife involves a significant spiritual and psychological change in direction: from an externally oriented world to an internally oriented one. Midlife persons use numerous images to describe this inward journey: cave, well, forest, womb, cocoon, desert, tunnel, black hole, seeds in soil, roots of trees A female respondent noted that "the miracle of a tree is that it grows only as high as its roots are grounded deep in the earth" while another commented: "My midlife spirituality has changed from the linear, shallow, external one of my youth into a more internal and expansive journey — a source of energy" (Q.R.).
One respondent described this transition as being like that of a huge ocean liner ponderously and laboriously trying to turn itself in a vast sea. It can't turn quickly or with speed or make a sharp turn but turn it must. It takes time to move this unyielding ship and when we finally do so we have no idea where we are going! (Q.R.). This turning is a move toward the interior of ones life. Even if we have faithfully and regularly visited this inner sanctuary, we will be called inward again, deeper and further than we have ever traveled before.
To use another ship image, midlife is like being on the sea of life. We have been in a safe, secure yacht in which we knew all the nooks and crannies, had learned how to use all the instruments. It is comfy and cozy in there amid the tossing to and fro on the sea. Then, midlife comes along and we look around and see what we have in our boat. We begin to evaluate what we carry with us: our "shoulds," "oughts," "musts," "want to's." We see that what we carry on board is not enough. Something is lacking and it is to be found in the sea beneath the boat.
We stand on the edge of the boat and we dive into the waters. It takes awhile to get used to being in there. As we go deeper, we start finding all sorts of things. Some of it is the junk of old wounds that comes to the surface and needs to be let go while other discoveries are wonderful treasures that gift us with joy. As we explore these waters, we meet strange occupants in the deeps, some of which are frightening and others enigmatically beautiful and enticing.
Yet another image of going deeper is that used by William Bridges. He describes this movement in Hindu terms — going from the householder to the forest-dweller stage of life. The first half of life has been focused on the external part of self: work, raising a family and/or forming significant relationships, making money, being successful, living our dreams to "be someone." The second half of life, Bridges tells us, is meant to take us inward. It is here, at the core or center of who we are, that we explore the immense and elusive truth of the Self. This journey holds its own perils and travails, but it is meant for us if greater wholeness is to be found.
One woman spoke to this issue when she described how she had no time for anything but the essentials of life when she had two children within eighteen months. She wrote, "I considered the day a success when I was dressed by afternoon!" She added, "I think that mothering can also mean less focus on one's own essential inner growth. Could that be why some empty-nesters are so devastated? They've not had time to tend the inner life and suddenly it is there before them, demanding their attention?" (Q.R.).
The movement from householder to forest-dweller is reflected in the comments of this woman:
I felt a strong sense of a need to discover who I really was and what I had to offer life. I began to turn myself inward and discovered a reality I had never known — a timeless part of myself. ... I now feel the excitement of turning a bend in a forest path to discover a beautiful vista before me — waiting to be explored. (Q.R.)
Excerpted from Dear Heart, Come Home by Joyce Rupp. Copyright © 1996 Joyce Rupp. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Midlife Interiority: Going Deeper,
2. Midlife Darkness: Entering the Cave,
3. Midlife Searching: Old Maps No Longer Work,
4. Midlife Grief: The Tolling of the Black Bell,
5. Midlife Prayer: When the Bush Doesn't Burn,
6. Midlife Transformation: Shedding the Skin,
7. Midlife Healing: What the Green Moss Told Me,
8. Midlife Hope: Discovering the Secret Garden,