When I was in a youth group, I heard Tony Campolo give an iconic talk that ended with an illustration about his African-American pastor preaching a sermon that repeated the phrase—“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’.” Tony emulated the cadence and intonation of his pastor, getting the group of youth riled up as he yelled, “It’s Friiiiidaay!” Pause. After which we all yelled back, “But Sunday’s comin’!” While cheering raucously.
Now, I don’t remember many sermons from my youth; but this is one of them. It was a sermon of hope. It acknowledged that some days were dark and painful and hard, much like Good Friday was for Jesus. But inevitably Sunday arrives, along with the empty tomb and life and a new beginning.
I don’t know about you, but every day seems like Friday, lately. And I keep waking and hoping that at least Saturday rolls around; but no, it’s Friday again. It’s like living the movie Groundhog Day, only written and directed by Stephen King.
When I was in London at the beginning of the year, we saw a LOT of Shakespeare plays, because, well, what else are you going to do living in England within walking distance of the Globe Theater? In fact, the first play we saw was Richard III. At the time, I had no idea how relevant the famous opening line to the play was going to be. For as the lights dim and a lone actor walks out on stage, the drama begins with these famous words:
“Now is the winter of our discontent.…”
Richard III is a violent play, starring a bloodthirsty king who goes on a killing spree with one goal in mind—the crown. No one is safe, not even family. At the end of the play the carnage escalates until a lonely man finds himself on a battlefield wandering wide-eyed and dazed at his impending doom, which leads to the other famous line from the play where Richard yells,
“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
I find myself in a situation where on some level art has imitated life. No on a literal level, mind you. But there is certainly a feeling where a winter of discontent has led to a carnage of a different sort.
And perhaps you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps you are experiencing your own “winter of discontent” that has led to a senseless metaphorical slaughter, and you are wandering though the field surveying the damage and loss and wondering if there is any hope. It’s one thing to hear about the traumas that others face. But when you find yourself in the middle of one you realize that every detail of it stings. You wake up to dread. You get through the day with distractions. You stare at the ceiling at bedtime, awake, because you can’t hush the many voices of worry and anxiety and anger.
In my spiritual formation classes I talk about the “dark night of the soul” that inflicts everyone at some point in their journey of faith. I’m often surprised at how many of my students have already experienced such an event—one filled with pain, suffering, doubt, and a crisis of faith. I even had one student misunderstand me a little, thinking I was talking about a “dark knight.” Still, he wasn’t too far off as he envisioned himself as Batman, a character feeling isolated and misunderstood by society.
And now I find myself once again experiencing what John of the Cross cautioned his followers about—a dark night where, “…we are simultaneously annihilated and immeasurably strengthened” (Dark Night of the Soul, Riverhead Books, trans. by Mirabai Starr, p. 15).
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for a way out. I’m looking for morning. Or spring. Or Sunday. Or whatever metaphor you want to use to indicate that the darkness is finally over.
In the meantime, how to I get through yet another Friday?
I know a part of the solution is to simply focus on what really matters. We’ve been conditioned to think that crowns matter, for they are symbols of wealth and power and prestige and honor. But focusing on retaining such things is sure way of making our situation worse. Crowns are nothing but metal and stones. I’ve seen the one Elizabeth wears behind a bulletproof case. It’s beautiful but heavy and useless and dead weight for a journey.
What matters is lightening your load and putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on the simple things until you find your way back home.
This means going back to the basics. And I can’t think of a better way of putting it than Thomas Merton when he wrote,
What I do is live.
How I pray is breathe.
Simple, isn’t it. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. This in and of itself is such a priceless gift. Draw the attention away from the battle raging in the mind to the life around you in the moment. Let go of the thoughts that beckon you to be afraid and let them pass by; they are a slow path to death. Acknowledge that yesterday was bad. Very bad. And today might be too. But I don’t have to be stuck here, reliving it over and over again.
In this moment I can breathe…