One of the things I do lately is drive from my home in Edmonds, north of Seattle, to Olympia, to Chehalis, to Olympia, and home again. One of the things I do when I drive is schlep books around. One of the books I’ve been schlepping around (schlepping? is that right?) is Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion. Here’s a passage I copied out in my own notebook (in it, she discusses the work of John Brantner, a professor at the University of Minnesota):
“Even though we have been told by saints and sages that there is a dark night, that we will lose ourselves in the woods, we may still be shocked and surprised to find ourselves there. It is part of human nature to hope that spirituality will save us from the experience, that we can combine enough luck and faith not to suffer.
“In Brantner’s worldview, not only is this not possible, it’s not desirable. He defined despair as an integral part of human maturity, an avenue of learning that should not be avoided….Despair is such a nearly universal experience among people who have chosen consciousness that you and I would do well to accept it, name it, and prepare ourselves as willingly as possible to submit to the process. ” (93)
Then, from Madeleine L’Engle, this:
“The world tempts us to draw back, tempts us to believe we will not have to take this test. We are tempted to try to avoid not only our own suffering but also that of our fellow human beings, the suffering of the world, which is part of our own suffering. But if we draw back from it…, [Franz] Kafka reminds us that ‘it may be that this very holding back is the one evil you could have avoided.’
“The artist cannot hold back; it is impossible, because writing, or any other discipline of art, involves participation in suffering, in the ills and the occasional stabbing joys that come from being part of the human drama.” (Walking on Water, 68-69)