At the feet of our teacher…the sacrament of silence

Posted by on 03.05.08 | No Comments
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How often are we told to rest in silence? That God’s language is silence? There’s a part of me that utterly believes this, and I use this wisdom in my prayer life—stilling my heart, silencing my racing thoughts, erasing my “to-do” list from my mind.

But when I speak of the spirituality of stillness, I am talking about something slightly different. Let me explain. For the past three years, I have lived with an astonishing, creative teen daughter who has experienced several mental health challenges: the first was a diagnosis of Bipolar 1, and the second is a recent diagnosis of D.I.D., or Dissociative Identity Disorder. If you want to learn about surrendering and giving up control, come and live with us. It is all about giving up, letting go, and staying in the present.

I grew up in an intellectual family which worshipped education and books. Being a smart kid, I thought that my brain and thinking processes could solve most problems, if only I tried hard enough. But then I bumped up against (perhaps, “crashed into” is more accurate) my daughter’s illness, and all I had thought about the power of my intellect turned to ash. Thank God.

With this more recent challenge for my daughter, I have learned to sit and just…..listen. She can talk to me about which alter is out—actually speaking with that alter’s point of view. She can tell me about waking up in class a different personality, with a radically different handwriting. We joke together about the fact that, “NO ONE HAS NOTICED, Mom, all my different handwritings!”

How far we have come from the safe harbor of a secure and “normal” life. But, instead of offering solutions, rushing to my computer and researching bipolar drugs (ask me, I’ve learned most of it!), and joining on-line support groups (well, I did join one DID support group, but it was scary and was mostly for adults), I’ve learned to sit in stillness with my girl. Because stillness is the refusal to seize control, to try and drive the situation so it fits our ideas of “what should be.” Stillness is the refusal to sink into endless worry, which offers the false comfort that I am actually doing something. So if I respond, it might be with this:

“Wow, that must have been strange. How did you deal with it?”

“Who’s doing Geometry tonight?”

“I’m here for you, you know that, whatever you want to tell me, whenever.”

But much of the time, I lean back against the sofa (ah, the reassuring solidity of furniture when one’s life is spiraling in a different, unwelcome direction!) and let my daughter’s words enter my heart. Without judgment, without fear.

I’ve been thinking of Mary a lot lately, how, after the shepherds told what they had heard from the angels, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Then Simeon predicted that her heart would be pierced; they had to flee to Egypt to escape a murderous ruler; her son was lost to her during their time in Jerusalem; she had the agony of seeing her son dragging his cross and then, stood beneath the cross as he died. All of her joy, hope, agony, and sorrow were stored in her heart.

I think, “If she can do this, I can, too.” I pray for Mary’s strength, to be the kind of mother my daughter needs. That kind of mother does not offer up solutions during most conversations; that kind of mother does not predict what will be ahead for us; that kind of mother offers encouragement and courage during the struggle, as well as saying, “If anyone can do this, you can.” But that’s it.

And this is what happens in the stillness: God enters in. He sits with us in the messy living room, perhaps petting our shedding Jack Russell terrier for comfort—as both my girl and I do. He holds my heart, and lets me wait in silence, because this I know: He has the answers. I do not. If I can just keep myself still, something will arise in the stillness, like the bubbles which rise to the silvery underside of a pond’s surface.

This is what arose one day: “Commit yourself to your daughter, not her diagnosis: commit yourself to the girl you know, not the girl you fear she has become.”

I carry these words like someone bearing something precious in a porcelain bowl—with reverence, with a recognition that sacraments are all about being present, about not judging, about loving in spite of all.

That is all I can do.]]>

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