Sowing in Tears
Imprisoned for the first time in her young life (of the at least dozen times from 1917-1955), Dorothy Day lay in her cell shivering from the cold and starving. She had joined a group of suffragists in D.C. to protest the brutal treatment of imprisoned women and, ironically, found herself in jail accused of rioting. Of the darkness she recalls, “I lost all consciousness of any cause. I had no sense of being a radical, making protest against a government, carrying on a nonviolent revolution. I could only feel darkness and desolation all around me” (The Long Loneliness, 78). As we move on from 2020 as a year of isolation, setbacks, and disappointments and move toward the penitential season of Lent, we can reflect upon the desolate darkness of this scene in Dorothy’s life and see it as an inspiring beginning. In that moment, for her, however, it felt like the end. The bad guys had won and Dorothy had failed, “I did not want to go to God in defeat” (The Long Loneliness, 81).
As Christians, we are blessed with the knowledge that our darkest of nights are a share in Christ’s suffering. Going to God is never defeat. Christ Himself provides us an example. Recall His agony in Gethsemane, the kiss of betrayal from His close friend, the violent arrest at the hands of soldiers, and imprisonment (Mt 26:36-56; Mk 14:32-52; Lk 22:39-53, Jn 18:1-11). Aware of His impending suffering as the darkness of fear entered into His Heart and the blood-sweat dripped down His face (Lk 22:44), God Incarnate prayed that He might be delivered, “let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39 & 42).
From this dark scene in Gethsemane to His crucifixion on Calvary, it would seem that the bad guys had won and the God Man had lost, not only to His disciples, but the abandonment Christ experienced seems to indicate that He felt defeated as well (Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46). In the first breath He prays, “Father, why have you abandoned me?” And in the second breath He prays, “Into Your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46; Mt 27:50; Mk 15:37; Jn 19:30). Even as He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, He was giving His life to God, “thy will be done” (Mt 26:39 & 42). With the backdrop of darkness, the light of loving communion with God comes into focus.
What is the implication of this for us? Well, we can be confident that our missionary road in life will decidedly not be a walk in the park, but rather a trek up Calvary. We can be certain that like our Lord and His saints (e.g., Servant of God Dorothy Day, St. Mother Teresa), we will experience fear and darkness; challenges in our life that quite literally feel like the end and we may tell ourselves that we have failed – yet again. But, success is not marked by the accumulation of stuff (recall the throne of God as the manger and the cross; recall too Dorothy lived with the poor as the poor); or prestigious titles or social status. Success in Christian terms is, rather, a state of constant growth, of constant conversion, reorientation of our hearts, metanoia. Although Jesus Christ, God, the second person of the Trinity, did not need conversion, Scripture tells us He grew “in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52) and “He learned obedience through what He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). He suffered much and indeed grew. His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was a cultivation of His person. And the heaviness of the darkness and fear He felt, in Christian terms, was a sign of success.
In her cold, dark cell, Dorothy, too, prayed: “I began asking for a Bible the second day I was imprisoned, and by the fourth day it was brought me…My heart swelled with joy and thankfulness for the Psalms…‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’ (Ps 126:5-6)…The man who sang these songs knew sorrow and expected joy…I clung to the words of comfort in the Bible…I prayed and did not know that I prayed” (80-81). Her prison cell was her garden in which the Divine Gardener (Jn 20:15) made fit to cultivate her heart, nurturing it, and supporting it’s growth.
So, as we journey together this Lent and new year and throughout our lives, experiencing fear, failure, and defeat, let’s pray that the Divine Gardener transfigure our tears into life-giving nourishment for the gardens of our hearts (Ps 42:3).
Your Sister in Christ,
Photo Credit: Bob Fitch Photography archive | © Stanford University Libraries