Tower of Strength?
We don’t want to name him but the man we’re talking about owns a large tower in New York and a lot of real estate elsewhere. An article by his psychotherapist niece this week was headlined: ‘The thing my uncle fears more than jail is becoming irrelevant’ . ‘I don’t think,’ she commented, ‘he would ever recover from that’.
That started us talking about our own greatest fears. Would it be true to say that ‘becoming irrelevant’ is a big fear for most of us as we get older? But is that our biggest fear in pandemic-racked 2020? What else are we struggling with besides catching Covid ourselves? Or losing loved ones? Or dying?
Among many people I have talked to, the biggest threats during lockdown come from their inner world. For some, it is the boredom that comes from an inability to get out there and see people and do things. Others have been confronted with the kind of thoughts that may arise for many of us when we are forced to spend so much time alone or in the same company. Both of these states of mind can lead people close to a dark abyss – where many of us have been at difficult times in our lives – an abyss where we are confronted with ourselves and with who we really are. And when it comes down to it, humanly speaking, each of us is on our own in the world. That realisation can be pretty frightening.
I was reminded of this the other day when I read again Psalm 139. It was read at my grandmother’s funeral and my aunt requested that it would be read at her funeral – which will finally happen next week. It is a psalm about God’s intimate knowledge of each of us since before our conception. Right in the middle of the Psalm are these words:
‘If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you...for darkness is as light to you.’
Essentially, the psalm is saying that we are never alone – that whatever the darkness we each have to face and however alone we may feel, such feelings do not tell us the whole truth. There is a bigger reality than our feelings at these moments.
Of course, a sense of ‘God’ and ‘reality’ can be developed and held in a trivial way that leads us to the sort of spiritual self-comforting which gives people of faith a bad name. It can lead us to reduce the God of the Universe to a cushion or a thumb to suck. That sort of ‘faith’ can rightly be seen as the ‘opium of the people’.
But the psalm doesn’t say, If you’re in the dark with God it will become light and everything will be fine. It simply says, ‘There’s more to the world at this moment than you and your feeling of darkness. There is, in the universe still a Benevolent Spirit at work, however dense the darkness and however down you may be feeling. You may not be able to feel any less fear or pain at this precise moment. That’s OK. Don’t put pressure on yourself to create fake feelings. Rest. Be gentle with yourself. Get some outside help if you need it.
Knowing, believing in and trusting such an accompanying Good Presence is a learned skill. It is harder for some of us than others and for all of us at some times. That’s ok. Rest.
Perhaps if the New York tall tower owner learned this skill, he just might begin to derive his value and relevance not from real estate but from another Reality.