Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, BCC, PCC
Sunday, January 26, 2020
A Pocketful of Sundays

Like Dante, we need to wash the filth of hell from our eyes so that we can see; like Dante, we also need to journey into the dark...

Whether we like it or not, into the Inferno we go! There we endure losses of great magnitude -- the loss of loved ones, loss of a job, loss of a home, loss of health, loss of abilities, loss of reputation, loss of freedom, loss of a pet, loss of a standard of living, loss of a country...

It is different for everyone, harrowing for everyone. The octogenarian who loses her cat, her only friend in the world, may suffer as much as the parents whose children die in a car crash. The pauper whose hovel burns to the ground may suffer more than the millionaire whose mansion is lost to flood waters.

I don't believe that God wants us to suffer or that God inflicts suffering upon us; however, I do believe that God uses suffering to school us and to bring us closer to the Divine Heart.

The gift of the dark places is spiritual sight. In the dark, we are stripped of all our props, delusions, self-justifications and self-reliance.

We cannot be naïve in the dark, nor can we live in denial.

At the same time, our cynicism doesn't serve us well, either. Instead, it holds us hostage to the darkness, destroying hope, making victims of us all.

But we are not victims. The Dark Night is a time of growth and spiritual becoming. It is as necessary as the time of the chrysalis is to a butterfly.

The more we lose, the more we stand to gain.

Stripped of the 100,000 illusory veils which distort our seeing, we learn to see as God sees.

Like Job who lost everything, we learn to see God...

  1. Have you ever experienced Hell as a state of mind, either because of fear, or anger, or hatred or another negative emotion? What did this do to you physically or emotionally and spiritually?
  2. Have you ever experienced Heaven as a state of mind? If so, what was the experience like for you?
  3. What strategies do you have for dealing with Darkness? What gives you the hope that Light will come?

Greetings, Readers!

First of all, I would like to thank those of you who sent expressions of sympathy on the death of my mother. Receiving the news of her passing when I had just landed at O'Hare was not easy; nor was the return to Malta, another 24 hour journey. However, your words were a comfort as was the presence of my daughter, Alexia, as travel companion. Somehow, we made it through the dark days and are now back in Chicago doing our best to catch up with the responsibilities we left behind while practicing a little more "self-care" than usual. I returned to the classroom without syllabi in hand and SBT is late in production-- yet again-- but sleep summoned and I was too exhausted to resist!

Today's readings are about Light in Darkness. Whether one has experienced a personal loss or whether one is distraught over the state of the nation or the state of the world, that Light still shines. In two of my classes at Roosevelt University, I have assigned Roy Scranton's We're Doomed. Now What? It's a difficult read, both in terms of content and style, but it poses some critical questions that I want to explore with my students. Faced with the breakup of the post-1945 global order, the mass extinction of species and apocalyptic planetary warming, how can we find meaning?

Scranton, a Buddhist, writes:
"Yet it's at just this moment of crisis that our human drive to make meaning reappears as our only salvation ...if we're willing to reflect consciously on the ways we make life meaningful--on how we decide what is good, what our goals are, what's worth living and dying for, and what we do every day, day to day, and how we do it" (7).

Can we, as Christians, change our lives not only in response to the Darkness that engulfs our planet but in response to the Christ Light which shines in the land of gloom? How can we see that Great Light, no matter how dark our world becomes?

There is something to ponder here....

Many Blessings!



Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

It is interesting that both our first reading and today's Gospel incorporate a text we would normally associate with Christmas -- Is 9:1-6. Though many preachers will probably focus on the call of the first apostles, the Light that darkness cannot overcome seems to be a more appropriate focus. In fact, the shorter lectionary version of the Gospel excludes the call of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John altogether. Instead, we learn that Jesus, upon learning of John's arrest, leaves Nazareth for Galilee, a cultural crossroads where he begins to preach repentance. "For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Reading the signs of the times, he moves away from John's stomping grounds but carries the same message.

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. This is the core message of Christianity, the belief that Heaven is accessible in the here and now, no matter how dark the world around us seems to be. Heaven, of course, is not so much a geographical reality as a state of mind. In John Milton's Paradise Lost , Book IV, ll. 75-78, Satan bemoans the hell he carries with him:

And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven."

Milton explains that Satan brings Hell with him and around him and that he cannot fly from Hell even by changing location. So, too, with Heaven though I'm not sure if Milton made this claim. If Heaven is a state of mind, nothing can separate us from this reality. St. Paul claims as much in Rom 8:31-39 when he writes that nothing can separate us from the love of God: "Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell."

No matter what befalls us, then, we can carry Heaven with us, but this involves conscious choice. If we allow fear to control us, or if we allow hatred to dominate us, or greed to possess us, or anger to consume us, then we descend into Hell. In contrast, if we invite God to become our guest, then we can enjoy the Divine Companionship wherever we are, in all the seasons of our lives.

Ways of Sacred Listening
Tele-course, Institute for Life Coach Training (ILCT)
Wednsdays, March 4-April 22nd. 6:00-7:30 p.m. EST

Sacred Union through Lectio Divina
Infinity Foundation, Highland Park.
Saturday, April 25th, 9:00 a.m.-noon

Beyond God
The Well Spirituality Center , LaGrange, IL
Summer Institute, June 26-27, 2020
This video explains my approach to this ministry, while my website provides further details as well. I work "in person" as well as remotely by phone, Zoom or Skype; I am also available to facilitate retreats for groups and individuals.

Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart | |

C. All Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart,