The Grace of the Descent

Boy, I’m about to be either brave or foolish.  Ah…perhaps a bit of both!  My fingers are twitching at the keyboard and I keep egging them on…c’mon–“You can do it; you can do it!”



Thank you, Béla!  OK, here goes.  There are several of you readers out there in SWOG blog land who are going through some tough times right now. I’ll be general when I say there are a few with health issues, a few with job changes or challenges, some with fractured personal or work relationships, a few with parents who are aging and infirm, and at least one with a pending divorce.  First, I am sorry for your pain.  I know it is not easy, and my heart extends to you in this time of challenge.  And, as difficult as this may be to contemplate, I’m thinking now might be a good time for me to discuss the opportunity for transformation that exists for those of you going through a difficult time.

I can still remember being coached in the 2011-2012 timeframe when I was going through my divorce right on the heals of my mother’s death.  My father’s health was rapidly deteriorating, and I was trying to figure out how to re-engage my full-time career since– pre-divorce– I had shifted to part-time work in order to care for my parents.  Blah, blah, blah…you get the picture.  Most of you lived with me through it (God bless you!).  I engaged a coach…a wonderful SWOG who follows this blog…and she did an amazing thing for me–actually two amazing things.

First, she had me write “my story” of when I felt I was at my best–my “hero in victory” story.  Of course, I went about–as I always used to do–listing my various (read here– “western culture”) accomplishments.  Wasn’t I just wonderful?  A history of promotions, awards, impressive GPA’s, graduate schools, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Not long after I went over that with her, she non-judgmentally handed me Richard Rohr’s book called Falling Upward, which was the second amazing gift she gave me.

Again, if you’ve been following me for a while you have heard a lot about Rohr.  But, this week his blog just happens to be focusing on this issue of “Path of Descent,”  which is a central theme behind his Falling Upward work.  In his book, Rohr discusses how, what he terms the “necessary suffering,” can be used to transform your life into something more genuine, more true to who you really are.  Because I know many of you are out there struggling, I just feel compelled to invite you to consider the opportunity a “path of descent” offers you.  Let me provide you excerpts from Rohr’s words of wisdom in Monday’s blog–and some key phrases I have highlighted in bold –and then I’ll follow this post with more thoughts as the week progresses:


Jesus’ primary metaphor for the mystery of transformation is the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39, 16:4; Luke 11:29). Jesus tells the growing crowds, “It is an evil and adulterous generation that wants a sign” (Luke 11:29), and he then says the only sign he will give is the sign of Jonah. Jonah was swallowed by a whale and taken where he would rather not go. This was Jesus’ metaphor for death and rebirth.

Rather than look for impressive apparitions or miracles, Jesus said we must go inside the belly of the whale for a while. Then and only then will we be spit up on a new shore and understand our call, our place, and our purpose. Paul wrote about “reproducing the pattern” of Jesus’ death and thus understanding resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). Unless you have gone down, you do not know what up is! Unless you descend, you won’t long for and make inner space for ascent.

This is the only pattern Jesus promises us. And we see this pattern mirrored in other traditions as well. Native religions speak of winter and summer; mystical authors speak of darkness and light; Eastern religions speak of yin and yang or the Tao. Christians call it the paschal mystery, but we are all pointing to the same necessity of both descent and ascent, and usually in that order.

The paschal mystery is the pattern of transformation, and it indeed is a mystery—that is, not logical or rational at all. We are transformed through death and rising, probably many times in our lifetime. There seems to be no better cauldron of growth and transformation, for some cosmic reason.

We seldom go freely into the belly of the beast. Unless we face a major disaster such as the death of a friend or spouse or the loss of a marriage or job, we usually will not go there. As a culture, we have to be taught the language of descent because we are by training capitalists and accumulators. These dark periods are good teachers.

We would prefer clear and easy answers, but questions hold the greatest potential for opening us to transformation. We try to change events in order to avoid changing ourselves. We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the perilous dark path of contemplative prayer. Grace leads us to the state of emptiness—to a momentary sense of meaninglessness—in which we ask, “What is it all for?” The spaciousness within the question allows Love to fill and enliven us.

Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, hibernation, initiation, and transformation. Yet we avoid this sacred space. When we avoid such darkness, we miss out on spiritual creativity and new awareness. Let’s be honest: there has been little solid teaching on darkness in Western Christianity for the last five hundred years. We have instead sought light, order, certitude, and theological “answers” for everything, which by themselves do not teach us very much.





CATEGORY: All Posts, Lessons Learned, Other SWOG Blogs Referenced


Learning is my passion and life is my classroom of lessons I experience along the way.

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