"There is a waiting in life that stultifies and destroys and a waiting that sacramentalizes and strengthens . . . as with any human phenomena, the attitudes and actions of waiting range the full spectrum from grace-filled to soul-destroying." (2)
Learned helplessness is not sacramental waiting. When an individual is disempowered it may indicate she was so wounded that she can not continue on a normal developmental course of self-discovery. Attentive or active waiting invites the future into what is, to disrupt what has been. Simone Weil, with whom Mayer is already conversing, says,
If we consent, God puts a little seed in us and he goes away again. From that moment God has no more to do; neither have we, except to wait . . . it is not as easy as it seems, for the growth of the seed within us is painful . . this gardening amounts to a violent operation. (79-80)
Mayer describes this active waiting as a discernment process, seeking to perceive a future God is fashioning. Sue Monk Kidd quotes a friend who puts it this way, “Be quiet and still so that you can begin to see the thing God is already weaving” (130).
Mayer discusses the signal event called ‘imaginative shock’ in which logic, analysis and reason having failed are left behind as the waiter explodes into ‘second order responses,’ a release of unconscious right-brained imaginings (3). This new level of activity requires the waiter to hold the condition of suffering in one hand while imagining new choices with the other. Mayer continues “Persons able to balance such extremes of height and depth . . . are rare.” These persons are able to welcome the presence of Christ into the present moment, thus freeing the present from being a continuation of the past. They learn to “take another road home” (3). Thus, what is false is allowed to fall away and the real is made manifest. Could it be that when we experience imaginative shock we have allowed ourselves to fall into the hands of God? Weil states “Only blind necessity can throw men to the extreme point of distance, right next to the Cross” (73).
In The Love of God and Affliction, Weil tells us,
"Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death . . . there is not real affliction unless the event that has seized and uprooted a life attacks it, directly or indirectly, in all its parts, social, psychological, and physical." 68
When we come near in spirit to Christ on the Cross, sharing our affliction with the One who was afflicted, Weil believes we are with God in the most intimate way.
Mayer discusses the importance of the quality of openness, which is necessary to begin to imagine something that one has not known from her own experience. I believe one way we recreate the past daily in our lives is by refusing to know our critical weaknesses. In this state of denial, we cannot be open to new possibilities. If we cannot name what we desire, we cannot have it. So openness is a state of being in which we are open first to what cripples us before we can open ourselves to a better way, a higher quality of living: “hold the condition of suffering in one hand while imagining new choices with the other” (Mayer 3). True openness requires we stand up, and with arms outstretched, open our hands. In one hand is our brokenness, in the other Christ’s gifts of presence and healing. I came to understand that where there is affliction and disempowerment, Christ is present. This awareness created in me the ability to act and react in new ways.
Learning to read messages using our right-brain is an apprenticeship in love; it requires a growing ability to trust “in the holiness of life to hold us up” (Kidd 142). These intuitive messages will be both awful truths and amazing delights. We cannot have it any other way. When I was ready, I had an experience of imaginative shock, and the second order responses were released. The backlog of messages only my right-brain could read were suddenly there and legible. In the painful attending to those messages, I could finally step over my paralysis and frustration at trying to make sense of my life. I realize now I had not used even my left-brain well.
I agree with Weil who tells us in affliction we are closer to God than at any other time. Sometimes I would picture myself lying near the cross while Christ suffered. This imagining brought me comfort.
Kidd tells us
"Father Sylvan believed that the growth of a person’s soul was activated whenever she experienced the pain of contradiction or the sustained state of questioning. In other words, the actual groping and searching is the way our deeper self evolves and is released." (159)
Father Sylvan’s description of soul growth makes sense to me. I am becoming strong through naming what was amiss, what I desire and conforming the pieces of my life to my heart’s desire. That is how I have experienced the “pain of contradiction.” In this incredibly awkward place of searching I am becoming obedient to God and able to sense “the obedience of the whole universe to God” (Weil 78). I am finding there is full provision made for me.
Kidd, Sue Monk. When the Heart Waits; Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions. New York: HarperCollins, 1992
Mayer, Suzanne. "The Poverty of Waiting and its Riches." Spirituality Today Winter 1990: Vol. 42, no.4.
Weil, Simone. Waiting for God. New York: HarperCollins, 2001