“When darkness falls; when nighttime is at its deepest,
and day seems far away; whenever we seem caught and blinded
by the powers and principalities of this present darkness,
there’s only one thing to do.
Turn on the light.
Many have said it across the years, in philosophy and stories,
in words of wisdom and song, and yet we are so quick to forget.
But there is a simple solution to the darkness of a room
in the middle of the night, of mind and heart,
of civilization and society. Reach for the flashlight,
for the word of hope, for the prayer.
Open the door to light, to grace, and to glory;
invite in the Light of the World, and allow that light
to chase away the shadows of nighttime fears.
Turn on the light.”
~ Carrie Gress, A Litany of Light
The paragraphs quoted above are reproduced with Dr. Gress’ permission; her text was given to me last April at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, when I spent a week there. That was my last significant time off from work. Such respite has not been possible since. Stresses and excessive fatigue have intensified my already longstanding insomnia. Not an easy topic, and I’ve been resisting any sort of permanency for a condition that must not last; just like a miserable housing situation. Let hardship generate needed motivation to transcend. Typical insomniac nights are restless. Imagine being at the conclusion of full and arduous workdays, yet unable to fall asleep- or remain asleep. None of the usual tactics help- from shutting down the lit screen early in the evening, to routines for bringing the day in for a landing, to reflective reading. I’ve always been told to walk around and have a glass of water, instead of tossing-and-turning in place. That doesn’t work, either. Listening to the radio is another repeatedly bad measure. The cast of culprits includes employment, housing, worries, regrets, frustrations, and other various obstacles. In this context, the Litany of Light I’ve quoted here offers a discipline to stem these daunting tides. “Turn on the light” is occasionally literal- so that I can write something down- and is more often metaphorical. As well, the discipline is not rigorous, but in forms of gentle reminders. Gentleness is surely not something experienced in daily life, not even in the boorishly cacophonous apartment building. Forms of gentleness worth my practicing include chaplets, prayers, and turning the light on- either by redirecting thoughts or by flashlight. This is to survive to see better days, and ahead of that to being open to seeing better. The biblical Bartimaeus miraculously received his sight by praying, Domine, ut videam, which means O God, help me to see!
The present state of my self-discipline is to refrain from fixating my sights far beyond the immediate. There is nothing easy about this, especially after pulling my own weight- and then some- for many, many vigilant years. But in rescinding my grasp, in modest increments, it becomes easier to sense the guiding consolations of saints and angels. It is essential for me to stay the course of good conscience, smart work, and responsibility- even though I’ve yet to see favorable results. I know enough not to expect favors, and I remember very well how my father would encourage me to keep at it: he’d say “Keep on stepping up and swinging the bat for the fences!” My wakeful and repeatedly fractured nights are riddled with reminders of how badly all my efforts are going, and I understand enough to consider my circumstances as an engulfing trial of as-yet-unknown duration. What I do know is the immediate, and the next right thing is what needs my attention; there’s nothing nebulous about that. Continuing to productively work is paralleled by continuing to network and search for better. Anguish serves to generate ambition.
Finding light in the darkness is a constant pursuit, yet paradoxically thinking about that very pursuit itself winds up helping me get back to sleep. I recently remembered something I’d do while on cherished travels such as pilgrimages: at the close of the day, I’d fall asleep while recalling the good things I experienced. With eyes closed, lying back, my thoughts would effortlessly return to the day’s scenery, people, sounds, tastes, and ideas. A grateful review of the day. Now under twin yokes of work duress and miserable housing, I try closing the day and gratefully asking, “what did I like today? What went well?” The temporary apartment is cramped, oppressive, and often invasively loud. When I’m wakefully clambering to look out from the windows, using a small flashlight to help me squeeze my way to pouring a glass of water during the midnight hours, I always notice the rare quiet. Working two careers that required the sharpest, clearest photo images, I marvel at the dusky, grainy, grey light of the hours long before dawn. My ache for better days and situations keeps me ambitiously working, and also keeps me awake at night.
During a recent sojourn at the Boston Athenaeum, I studied the 17th century text, Tender Counsel and Advice by way of Epistle, by pioneering Quaker William Penn. As always during my prized study days in the manuscripts room, I made numerous notes for my later reading. Providing his tender counsel, applying the Quaker emphasis to mind the Light, Penn bids the reader to walk in the holy Light of Christ, and thereby be preserved through all trials and difficulties on earthly life’s pilgrimage:
“For even Jesus was tempted and tried, and is therefore become our Captain, because he overcame. Neither be ye cast down, because the Lord sometimes seemeth to hide his Face from you, that you feel not always that Joy and Refreshment, that you sometimes enjoy. I know what work the Enemy maketh of these Withdrawings of the Lord. Perhaps he will insinuate, that God hath deserted you in his displeasure, that you must never expect to see him, that he will never come again: And by these and the like strategems, he will endeavour to shake your faith and hope, and distract you with fear, and to beget great jealousies and doubts in you; and by impatience and infidelity, frustrate your good beginnings.”
Reaching for light, along with recollecting positive experiences, help to uphold a sense of wonder to be able to look forward. As much as it runs against the grain of desolation, it is all the more essential to force the effort to stay hopeful. Trading consolations one morning with a colleague that is also a good friend, we compared how we wryly express our perseverance. In a comedic gruffness, looking up from a computer, my friend said, “I’m happy, dammit!” I replied with my sarcastic equalizer, “I’m being positive ‘til it kills me!” Even amidst austerity, there’s room for some kind of humor. Sarcasm, however, can detrimentally ingrain itself into one’s every perspective. I described catching and adjusting my own propensities as being similar to a car with misaligned wheels. With some focused consideration, I’ll steer my thoughts forward, preventing myself from swerving off the road. Balance and luminosity need one another, and all the more in dark and unmarked valleys. “For with you is the fountain of life,” wrote King David in the 36th Psalm; “In Your light we shall see light.” Philosophizing about the verse in the 5th century, Saint Augustine observed, “we are, and understand, because of divine illumination.” Have I got enough of this light of understanding, and do I obstruct the headlamps of guidance? As the matter of the heart is the heart of the matter, I try holding up my end of things with all I can provide. Sure, there’s grace, but typically it’s been costlier for me than it’s seemed to be for most everyone I know. Whether or not that’s true, with contrast being the mother of clarity, it honestly looks that way to me. Leaving such notions aside, and now insistently swerving away from them, the road ahead must include surrendering the failings and the incorrigibles. Living an ascended, resurrected life is needed for new beginnings. Let the way upward be lit by aspiration and gratitude.