‘The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and wounded-ness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines’ -Richard Rohr
The pathways we find ourselves on are always long and winding, their contours full of complexity and colour, a rigorous exercise in trusting and listening to your internal sense of direction. All journey is sacred whether it be on the upward path of confidence and clarity or the downward path of unknowing and despair.
All paths are the unfolding reality of decisions that we have made, or those that have been made on our behalf by previous generations. The outcomes that we find ourselves in are ultimately the work of providence, the mystical muse who guides and guardians our soul. Sometimes that guardianship can be called into question when we face perils that overwhelm our sensibilities.
The reality of all journey is that it does not necessarily follow a set trajectory, one that has been predestined by the gods of success and prosperity. Unless we are prepared for the ups and downs of the emotional terrain of descent we will find lots of reason to let cynicism and disillusionment be our defining framework.
The door is open to go through
If I could I would come, too
But the path is made by you
As you're walking start singing and stop talking
..... Love is bigger than anything in its way -U2
Descent proposes that going down into the dark or unknown is an important part of self-discovery and self-awareness, a scary alone-ness that cannot be often shared with the general public. It seems that at times I am destined to venture deep into the underworld of my own soul in order to find what truely resides in my true self. When this door unexpectedly opens and its gravitational pull starts to lure us in we often do everything in our power to resist or avoid walking through it, preferring to live in a subtle denial of unreality, naively hoping that it will all go away or be magically removed by the God of more preferable outcomes.
Our archetypal character of descent is Jonah, the ancient prophet who finds his life suddenly swallowed up in an undersea abyss carried along by a large fish who becomes his place of hospice, preparing him for his inevitable dying. This parabolic story helps us to grapple with our avoidance and denial, our running from certain ways of seeing or understanding Gods way in our lives. Descent is about letting go and grieving the old ways of seeing, believing or belonging to a set of expectations about what it means to be in the ‘will of god’.
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple. - Jonah2:7
The way of descent is the death of self-reliance and rebirth (ascent) of hope in a divine other who hides in the prayers of your soul. Prayer transports us into ascent but only as we allow the life we know to ebb away, a dying to self and a living into the way of another. Descent is looking to expose you to the ‘holy temple’ that you are, not because you have fulfilled your ritual requirements but because you have always been Gods child.
Jonah was facing his fears, insecurities and prejudice, which the path of descent often confronts us with. The person he must become could only be realised through the people he must embrace (Ninevites) in order for him to discover who God really is and how God really sees people. Jonah was not just running from the will of God but was paradoxically being coaxed out of the old ‘way of seeing god’ that was prevalent in his culture.
‘I pray to God to rid me of God’ - Rene Gerard
While the path of descent is the journey into our personal darkness it is also a journey into the darkness (mystery) of God who is ultimately endeavouring to transform us in every area of our divine under-standing.
When we descend we go deeper into ourselves and God, eventually to be spat up on a new beach head of hope leaning into a bigger way of being in the world.
If we let life throw us overboard we will sink and be swallowed by destiny who is wanting to help us die so that we can truly live.
Remember…’down is the new up'