Friday, December 09, 2005

Charles Colson finds solace in Carmelite tradition

Chuck Colson knows the strength of evangelicalism in bringing people to an intimate relationship with Jesus. That's what brought him to conversion 32 years ago after the Watergate affair during the Nixon administration. But after three decades of first-hand acquaintance with the strong suit of evangelicalism, Colson apparently ran into a brick wall. His son was diagnosed with bone cancer. His daughter was diagnosed with melanoma. His wife underwent surgery. Amidst the crucible of his own soul's dark night, Chuck Coleson asked "what happens when you have relied on this [evangelical] intimacy and the day comes when God seems distant? What happens in the dark night of the soul?" He found out, he says, this past year:
I'm not sure how well the contemporary evangelical world prepares us for this struggle, which I suspect many evangelicals experience but fear to admit because of the expectations we create. At such times, we can turn for strength to older and richer theological traditions probably unfamiliar to many—writings by saints who endured agonies both physical and spiritual.

Teresa of Avila was a 16th-century Spanish mystic and author of The Interior Castle. Teresa, who suffered from paralyzing illnesses, wrote, "For his Majesty can do nothing greater for us than grant us a life which is an imitation of that lived by his beloved Son. I feel certain, therefore, that these favors [sufferings] are given us to strengthen our weakness."

John of the Cross, persecuted and thrown into prison, wrote the classic The Dark Night of the Soul. "O you souls who wish to go on with so much safety and consolation," John wrote. "If you knew how pleasing to God is suffering and how much it helps in acquiring other good things, you would never seek consolation in anything, but you would rather look upon it as a great happiness to bear the Cross of the Lord."
Colson saw in these older traditions the truth that faith becomes strongest when we are without consolation and must walk into the darkness, as he learned, with complete abandon:
Faith isn't really faith if we can always rely on the still, small voice of God cheering us on. A prominent pastor once told me he experienced the Holy Spirit's presence every oment. Contemporary evangelicals regard this as maturity. Perhaps it is -- or maybe it is a form of presumption. True faith trusts even when every outward reality tells us there is no reason to....

Evangelicals must rely on more than cheerful tunes, easy answers, and happy smiles. We must dig deeply into the church's treasures to find what it is like to worship God, not because of our circumstances, but in spite of them.
[Source: Chuck Coleson with Anne Morse, "My Soul's Dark Night," Christianity Today.Com, December, 2005 (Hat tip to Fagan)]

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