Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A cross to bear

We are ever on the verge of despair; a touch, a thought only, and we are in its midst; it is incessantly welling up from the depth of our own heart, ready to engulf us. The mind at times resists with a frenzied power, but only to sink back in defeat. And the worst of it is that I am struggling as it were on both sides, offering agonised resistance while turning tooth and nail against myself in maddest hatred.

How long these fits may last I cannot tell; it is not with us as with you, that exhausted nature herself yields the remedy. There is no nature here, but only existence.

But the paroxysm ceases. There seems to be a climax of fury; when I have beaten myself out, so to speak, there is a lull.

But sometimes—ah! this is the deepest experience, would I could say the most precious! but that is more than hell admits of—sometimes, as the waves of madness sink away, there rises a vision to my soul, wondrous and holy, even the image of the Crucified One. And there is a sudden calm, despair seems drowned, and all is still. Not that suffering ceases, but an all-enfolding sense of loss has swallowed up the rest. I stand accused—I hear a voice cryingIt is thou, thou who broughtst Him to the cursed tree!

Did I say vision? Nay, the very word is too much. I was a prey to longing, but I dare not delude myself; such seeing is not for me. The hungry spirit imagined for a moment—I see the Cross—the thorn-crowned figure—I look—and it is gone! Yet I seem to feel it present if only I could pierce the hiding darkness. I gaze and gaze, but tenfold night enwraps the longing soul.

Him who died I see not, but the Cross keeps dawning forth and receding. Beyond it I get not. I once knew the story, but it is gone, gone, and the more I try to remember, the greater seems the blank. Tell me, ought I to despair, ought I to rejoice? I see a Cross truly, though an empty one! Did He not die on the Cross? Why should it keep rising before me? Is it for punishment? Is it for hope? Was not there something about taking up the Cross and following?

Happy, thrice happy, O men and women, having a cross to bear! Murmur not, but bear it willingly, lest the time come when ye long for it and find it an empty vision, the very burden gone.

Letters from Hell, L. W. J. S., Richard Bentley & Son, London, 1889