There is a crack, a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in (Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”)
Every spelunker knows caverns are often places of exquisite beauty. Swirling colors, still pools inhabited by fish with no eyes, speleothems like flowstone, columns, stalactites and stalagmites glistening with minerals drawn from ancient rocks, smooth surreal shapes in cathedrals of permanent coolness – awe-inspiring to the non-claustrophobic adventurer. Like the canyons and grottos above, subterranean caves were patiently carved by water, both liquid and ice. Over eons, water widens and deepens the cavern, refines its beauty, and polishes its artwork.
Born supple, our hearts gradually harden as we age. It is inevitable. Rejections, failures, let-downs, neglect, losses, the harsh realities of a broken world, childhood wounds combine to steel us against further pain. How can God, the Divine Source, Prime Mover, and Essence of Perfect Love penetrate our hardened inner selves? The water of life needs cracks to get in.
The pain and suffering we endure, whether inflicted upon us or vicariously experienced as the inevitable side effect of empathy, will, like water, slowly carve out deep places of expansive beauty within us, making room for our inner-most beings to be filled with the splendor of grace. Our capacity to love is proportional to our depth of suffering. It is the suffering that makes space for the love. If we allow it.
We may choose to fill the fissures of our souls with tons of debris and seal over our hearts with layers of concrete. This metaphorical debris and cement vary from person to person. Might, power, control, self-righteousness, egocentricity, political or religious dogma, consumerism, wealth, opulence, knowledge without wisdom, status, position, the eremacausis of slow-burning anger, judgementalism, and the riches and cares of life may pile together like demolition rubble to fill our hearts and spoil the beauty. Materialism, selfishness, close-mindedness, militarism, nationalism, and prejudice of all sorts block the waters from carving out spaces for grace. Many of us have become quite skilled at blocking out pain. Entertainment, sports, or a plethora of expensive toys anesthetize compassion.
Conversely, we may choose the Via Crucis, the way of the cross. To deliberately turn our backs on societal wealth, violence, control and achievements, and purposely embrace openness, inclusivity, teachableness and anti-racism is to allow the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the broken creation to affect us. As we are open up to new ideas, new kinds of people, new discoveries and new traditions, we let in the waters of life. This is what Jesus meant when he told us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him.
As we face and embrace our own sufferings and losses, the hidden shadows of our being integrate with the light. As we empathize with nature’s groans and hear the cries of a choking planet with its rising tides, epic storms, polluted air, and plastic oceans, the mystical cosmic ice carves deeper fissures within us.
As we identify with humankind’s distresses – the war-torn, the mentally and physically ill, the disabled, the refugee, the poor, the oppressed – we let in the rains that create cathedrals within. As we choose to take the side of justice, peace, and reconciliation, and walk in the way of forgiveness and love of enemies, we open up our own hearts to the inner workings of grace.
We discover that the more suffering we allow in, the more expansive our hearts become. A wideness is created within us. We love more. We embrace all of creation. We become (ever so gradually as the waters drip) places of exquisite beauty and grace.
Don’t wall off your heart. Open the door. Let the pain of a broken world in. It won’t overwhelm you. It won’t make you depressed or miserable to live with. On the contrary, it will enable you to be filled with light.
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
(Rumi, 13th century Persian Poet)