Even now I wonder: if I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot and let me burn?
But no. It is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down. God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.
– Annie Dillard
With time, I thought, my search for identity would settle. There was a time not long ago when I thought it had. I could see God’s hand weaving the strands of my life together; I thought I understood God; I thought I understood myself.
That’s when the word came, like a hammer, to leave safety, comfort, and familiarity behind.
We had been walking hand-in-hand through the field. He made promises, shared secrets, and invited me to plan and dream with him. My heart was filled with hope; my steps were light with anticipation. I craned my neck to look ahead and knew we were entering new territory—the pathway was being laid before us, brick by brick. Flowers lined the pathway, quiet reminders of the promises he had made.
The pathway took a sharp turn and twisted through a cave, ending abruptly at the edge of an abyss. I paused, staring into the darkness, peering into the depths. My God had led me here, and he wanted me to walk right off the edge into the darkness.
Jesus: Who do people say that I am?
The disciples: Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
Jesus: But who do you say that I am?
Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Jesus: Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.
Revelation of identity always comes after a revelation of God. I have known this; I have lived the reality of this. He is my Father and I am his daughter and he has provided for my every need. He is Emmanuel, who walks with me through all seasons. He is my Shepherd, who guides me and leads me.
But here, in the darkness, he is elusive. I stand here, calling out into the dark: Who are you, God? Who are you for me here in this place?
I am met with silence. I know he has not abandoned me; if I focus, I can feel him near, only he feels different: distant, mysterious, unknown. This is not the warm, comforting presence I knew in the field.
More questions rise to my lips, but fear keeps me silent: What of the promises he made? Have I been deceived? Have I known him truly, or only a shadow? Is he deaf to my cry or has he intentionally chosen to remain silent? And if so, how do I reconcile these contradictions: Is he good or is he cruel? Is he neither, or both?
And worst of all, if I have lost my understanding of God, then have I lost myself? If I have lost God, then who am I?
I balked. I ran the other direction, but lost my way. I argued with this unfamiliar God, shouting promises into the darkness that echoed back through the caves, mocking me; I wept; I threw myself to the ground in despair.
No matter how much I protested, something in me knew it was inevitable—something burning within me brought me right back to the edge. I had a choice, I knew, but, really, there was no choice. I could go nowhere but forward. With my spirit wrung, I lifted one foot, peered once more into the darkness, shifted my weight, braced myself for the plummet, and stepped into nothingness.
And there, where there was nothing, I felt something crystalize beneath my foot. I looked—it was a block, no longer than my foot, clear as glass, floating in the darkness.
I was held, one foot on solid ground, one foot suspended over the abyss.
Yesterday, I felt something new, like a clearing had opened up in my life. And I felt the possibility for change, tiny stirrings of hope: I could live a beautiful day; I could come alive. I had only one chance at this one day, so I had better make the most of it.
Instead, all I felt was fear. I didn’t understand it at first–why I would willingly turn from what would bring life and joy, peace and contentment.
But then I realized: I had signed a pact with sorrow. She had settled in so deep I could not untangle myself. Where does she end and where do I begin? Here is the fear: that if I tell her to pack her bags and never return, will there be anything left? Without sorrow, who am I?
Who are you, God?
Who am I?
One step. And another. And another. With each step, I feel the nothingness give way to substance. I am held by invisibility and impossibility.
I am going deeper into the darkness: how far must I go? Will my feet touch solid ground? Will I see light again, or is this an endless journey, deeper, deeper into darkness?
Is this grace? Is this love? That God refuses to let me settle into a limited view of who he is, a limited view of myself? Is he stretching out my understanding of who he is so he can stretch out my understanding of myself?
A name: the Man of Sorrows. He is a God who knows what it means to be human, who can meet me in the place of shadow. He brings no answer, only a heart broken by suffering and he weeps with me here.
Sometimes I feel him weeping here with me; mostly, I am too preoccupied with my own grief to acknowledge him. Besides, I cannot bear to meet his eyes, even though I know they are filled with kindness. I cannot bear to be seen like this: messy, broken, resentful, bitter.
Still the Man of Sorrows opens his arms and receives the only offering I can bring: these tired questions, this endless sorrow, this weighted grief, a busted-up shell of myself.
And for now, that is enough.