Into the darkness, where we can let go

  • August 10, 2011

In a retreat I led, we talked about healing broken relationships: not just fixing something, but the new life that can come out of broken places. In the process, a real life is established, for underneath the relationship that broke is a life in need of deep healing.

Forgiveness can’t happen unless we’re willing to let go of winning or losing, being right or wrong. (Fortunately, God forgives — thereby unlocking the door to the process.) This is not to say there isn’t hurt and responsibility, and we may need to sort out what we’re responsible for and what we’re not.

What needs to be let go of? It’s almost never what you think; the surprise of it is part of the joy.

Some hours after this discussion, I was in the garden weeding, during free time after lunch. A participant was on the porch changing a diaper. She lingered, enjoying the beauty of the woods, the sunshine, others’ presence. She broke a long silence by asking me, across the garden: “But how do I let go?”  

Did I say it aloud, or only think it loudly? “You’re doing it! Or you wouldn’t be here, and wouldn’t have asked the question.” How do we let go, when we don’t know what we’re clinging to? We can only point the direction — even by trying to answer the question we’re keeping control.  

We have persons to help us find the direction. During August we commemorate many, including the Mother of God (Aug. 15). As Caryll Houselander observed, Mary is unique among the saints in having no “charism”; she’s a witness, not by doing this or that, but by being the one thing necessary for us all: bearer of God. Allowing God to be present within her, she lets go of all else. She’s “wider than the heavens,” for her “Yes” creates an opening where God gets in, and we get out of our prisons into the limitlessness of His love.

Can we become bearers of God also, by being aware of and responding to the glory that’s inside and around us? When this happens, we may no longer have to force ourselves to forgive, or move on, or let go. We may find ourselves emerging into the wide open places, our hands empty, upraised and free.

But it’s not easy.

Last week, I was in one of the world’s great wide-open places, a world-renowned natural splendour. A privileged place where beauty, power, majesty, mystery are so huge you’d think they’d be unignorable.

But not five minutes’ walk away are streets crowded with noise, bustle, commerce. Wafts of cold air, a barrage of sound and activity emerge from shops, arcades, amusements, concessions, occupying every square metre of space. Just beyond are huge gambling casinos under giant flashing lights.

Our own inventions almost silence Niagara Falls! From this vantage point, the Falls are small and distant, just another detail, an insignificant one.  

The scene contrasted remarkably with a previous visit to Victoria Falls, Zambia. Too magnificent to take in, the falls are allowed simply to be there. No concessions; no neon, loudspeakers or amusements. A few booths offer local wares, but as night falls the selling stops, with no artificial lights to shop by. Without such glare to impede vision, the lunar rainbow can be seen luminous over the falls.

In our part of the world, we’ve created a cloak of noise to protect ourselves from such majesty. It doesn’t completely work, though. As you walk up the Niagara River towards the Falls, on your left is this natural splendour hinting of God’s unimaginable splendour. On your right are myriad humans: the image and likeness of God. You can hear a thousand languages spoken, see children of all colours playing or quarrelling, feel the lives of an astonishing array of humans. The majesty of God Himself who breathes His Spirit into them. They’re also shot through with confusion, unhappiness, bewilderment, violence, despair.

A family friend, years ago, carried with her to these Falls her own inescapable inner pain, and leapt with it into the rushing water. We can’t avoid forever that kind of darkness and its apparent power over us.

Becoming aware of God’s glory within and without doesn’t mean avoiding darkness. The Mother of God teaches a way to enter into the dark places, not giving in to them but letting go into them. It’s in the shadow of the Holy Spirit that Christ is conceived within her. Christian tradition treasures the image of God as light. But it also describes God as a journey into divine darkness, into which we let go.

It’s understandable that we’d want to manufacture noise and light, because we’re not big enough yet to bear God’s glory. With Mary, we enter into darkness, allowing ourselves to be broken open, to let go, to be made wider than the heavens. We needn’t wait for this; it can happen while we’re changing diapers.

(Mary Marrocco can be reached at