Notes from Underground – August 2021
"In the end, these three remain, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. This is the road less traveled. This is the little way that creates a larger way. I am grateful that we have chosen to walk this way together. It’s truly an honor. "
Let me just say, I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the entire Street Psalms Community and your part in what God is doing through us. The fact that we’re all still here, seeing and celebrating good news in hard places, is no small thing. Especially given the challenges of the past 18 months. I am tempted to attach my gratitude to the growth we have experienced, which is worthy of its own celebration, but that is not what I am most grateful for. What brings me to my knees in gratitude is that in the face of overwhelming challenge, and huge loss, something remains alive and well in our network – what Thérèse of Lisieux would call the vocation of love.
For many years I have kept a photo of Thérèse of Lisieux (1873 –1897) on my desk. On the back is a touched relic of Thérèse. It was given to me by Sister Wilma, a hermetic nun in New Jersey, who lives a life of solitude and prayer. She regularly prays for Street Psalms. It means a lot to me, especially because I know the place from which it comes. She has mapped the wild, untamed universe of the soul, which is no less challenging than the cities we serve.
You might recall that Thérèse of Lisieux is known as the “little flower.” Her spirituality is often called “the little way.” Sadly Thérèse is often portrayed with such sentimentality that her identity as the “little flower” becomes saccharine in the face of real-life challenges.
Thankfully, Sister Wilma and authors like Richard Beck, and Tomáš Halík, in his book Patience with God, rescue Thérèse of Lisieux, from her overly sentimental Hallmark reputation. When seen honestly, her “little way” emerges as something solid and trustworthy, fired in the kiln of real-life stuff.
It’s well known that Thérèse died at the age of 24 from tuberculosis. It’s also well known that Therese struggled as a teenager with dreams of grandeur. She wanted to do something big and heroic for Christ. It was only after much turmoil that she realized her vocation was to be, not the mouth, or hands, or feet of the church, in some big way, but to be the beating heart of the church, which is love. After reading the great love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, at last, she had found her vocation – the vocation of love. She called it the little way.
What’s not well known is that in her journey toward death, Thérèse of Lisieux experienced profound spiritual darkness that did not let up. There is nothing sweet or sentimental about the Dark Night of the soul. She writes, “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into…Everything has disappeared on me…” Her faith was shattered. Hope was lost. Belief, in any conventional sense, had vaporized. But her vocation remained. She says, “I am left with love alone.”
Dark nights like this past year can tear apart our faith, and extinguish our sense of hope. This can be terrifying. But as Halík points out, the Dark Night is also capable of converting faith and hope into love. Halík suggests, when the Dark Night completes its work, it discloses the very presence of God, which is beyond faith and hope. When this happens, he suggests faith and hope have “fulfilled their task.” They have done their work, “accompanying us through the valley of the shadow” into the presence of God at which point, only one of the three great virtues is necessary. Halík wonders if perhaps this is what happened with Thérèse of Lisieux in her last days. Faith and hope had done their work. She had been brought into the presence of Love itself. In the end, what remained was love and that is enough. More than enough.
Perhaps now my gratitude makes sense. The Dark Night of this past 18 months has been real for many in our network. We have undergone great loss. The loss of many, many lives. The loss of faith. The loss of hope. What has not been lost is our vocation. We continue to induct leaders into the love of Christ that creates communities of peace for all people, especially the most vulnerable.
In the end, these three remain, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. This is the road less traveled. This is the little way that creates a larger way. I am grateful that we have chosen to walk this way together. It’s truly an honor.
I can’t thank you enough!