By Derick Cranston
(Author’s note: the following reflection was made at an Ignatian retreat I attended in early June. It is with great trepidation that I share this personal reflection with the reader, and hope you take it for what it is.)
“If I say O Lord, ‘Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as day for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:11-12). Darkness … images of darkness again. They stand out in the passages I reflect upon; images of darkness, images of light. It occurs to me, though, that God created everything, even the darkness. Darkness can lead to light, for “day unto day takes up the story, night unto night makes known the message”… or is it that light will inevitably lead to darkness? Is that the message? Is it the other way around?
I feel that I have a dark side. The dark side of a misspent youth which still lingers inside me and haunts the deepest recesses of my consciousness. It was a time I made many poor decisions. One bad decision led to another bad decision, and then to a worse decision. It was a spiraling downward cycle that I was only able to emerge from by the grace of God. There is an invisible guilt that shrouds me; guilt that I share the stories of the mistakes of my youth with the kids in my confirmation class. I do this in hopes that they can learn from my errors and not make the same mistakes I made. But sometimes I wonder… am I only sharing this with them to bring attention to myself? Fodder to feed my ego?
But there is another dark side that afflicts me — the dark side of mental illness, depression and anxiety. There is a shame I feel, that I have to depend on medicine to manage my depression. But God created all things, and found that they were good. This includes the scientists and researchers who the Lord knitted together in their mother’s womb. They, in turn, arranged and packaged the elements and chemicals which God created into a medicine that alleviates my illness.
“Do not fix your desire on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure,” Ignatius wrote, “for everything has the potential of calling forth in us, a response to a deeper life with God”… even our illnesses and struggles.
God’s will is to come closer to us, and for us to respond and come closer to God. God did not create the darkness to punish, but to show that even darkness can lead to light. Even the darkness of past mistakes and mental illness can enlighten and show God’s face to others. The suffering in our life is a sacred wound which will bring God’s healing grace to others. In 2 Corinthians 4:10 it states, “…whatever we may be, we carry within us the death of Jesus , so that the life of Jesus too, may always be seen in our body.” What is the “death of Jesus” that you carry within you? Are you able to use it to let the life of Jesus shine through you?
(Derick Cranston is youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He is going through diaconate formation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)