I’ve always been an anxious person. As a child, fretting over something in the middle of the night (probably because I hadn’t done an assignment for school the next day; I was indeed that lame), my mom would hold my shoulders and say, “Can you do anything about it right now? No. Wait until morning. Things will be better in the morning.”
That mantra has stuck with me. I still repeat it to myself in the wee hours when all seems so fragile and lost. I’m dealing with more than forgotten homework these days, but the mantra holds. I breathe it in, let it consume all the angry, buzzing anxiety in my lungs and then breathe the whole mess out like some oil and water mass.
Except, things aren’t always better in the morning. That’s the everyday theodicy, the mundane “shit happens” of life. We’re all familiar with it, and we’re all tempted to see it as conquerable. Sometimes, though, it just isn’t. The morning light appears, ready to comfort, only to find you still cradling the tiny, momentous pain you rocked all through the night.
This isn’t just an issue of theodicy, of hoping that God or the universe will suddenly realize that bad things happening to good people is actually as awful as everyone’s been complaining it is for all of human history and thusly banish such a concept from reality. This is the paradox of faith, which is one even someone with no faith understands. Beauty and suffering never separate. The terrible is always knotted so firmly to the lovely that wondering how or if one will come apart from the other is a waste of time.
For Christians, this is the paradox of the cross Logan was talking about last week. But this goes beyond the cross (even the cross goes beyond the cross; huzzah for paradox!); this is the rich, fertile soil upon which all life is built. We grow in it, learn to live and love in it, face heartache and death in it. It’s all-encompassing. Which is why, for me, the most complete healing comes when I root myself in nature, the space where I get most of my metaphor.
Last week, I felt panicked, jittery, and unable to connect. So I retreated to the hiking trails. I walked under trees that rose from both sides of the path until they arced and bowed, forming a patchwork cathedral ceiling. Above it, the sky that was the kind of blue only a crayon can be. By the time I finished walking, all the panic had seeped out and I hadn't even noticed.
It’s not always better in the morning. It’s not always better any time. Like a good apophatic theology, our painful experiences tell us so much about what isn’t. But, also like a good apophatic theology, they clear a path for us, helping us to understand what is. Because sometimes it is better. Sometimes the air is cool, the music on the radio is right, and the sky is so wide that our hurt couldn’t possible contaminate it were we to just exhale our troubles into the big, vast nothing that is also a good, good something.