Yesterday morning I glanced at the printer in our little office. I had not been printing, nor was I intending to print. But there was unaccustomed text in the little window:
No help available for this.
There it was, sudden & unbidden, the answer to the relentless, unyielding, inchoate question of my spiritual life. No help available. For this. For the overwhelming, de profundis clamavi of a lifetime. No help. Sorry. No, not even sorry, simply no help available. You're on your own, honey. This is the first and last you'll hear from me. Now get on with it.
I pressed reset and the machine reverted to its usual business like demeanor. It had been a quintessential deus ex machina moment, or perhaps the first symptom of late-onset schizophrenia. It put me in mind of that famous utterance of Thomas Merton's, made hours before his death, about standing on one's own feet: it's what one does when faced with the inadequacy of institutional structures, in his case the monastery.
But no help available for this is a deliciously dismal little statement that goes way beyond Merton's advice. Merton may have been exasperated at institutional Trappist life, but, still, had not lost his faith in ultimate and specific help for this.
We are in the depths of Advent, the season of darkness, lack, longing, waiting, expectation. The season of wild-eyed prophets and end-times scenarios. If I could have my way with the liturgical year, we would go straight from Advent into Lent then back to Advent. I realize this puts me more than somewhat outside the tradition where I am currently sojourning, likely into the Outer Darkness.
I think the Bible has it wrong about this dark place, specifically with regards to the weeping and the gnashing of teeth it posits therein. I have found it quiet here, and dry, and not without a certain wraithy fellowship.
And if there is no help available
there is, at the very least and the very most, This.