One of my Facebook friends is known for his thoughtful status updates. No political rhetoric or cheesy humor; you can count on him to be insightful and profound. Last week he posted something that hit dead center for me and it got an interesting online conversation going back and forth between the two of us.
He wondered if I’d read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Well, I had no idea who the heck he was talking about, but Google saved the day. (How did we ever survive before the Internet?)
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 –1926) is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language. His haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion with the [sacred] in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety… (Wikipedia)
My friend offered up the first letter, written by Rilke to a young man who sought him out for literary criticism and career advice. I saved it for a bedtime read, curious but not expecting anything extraordinary (although I should have known better, this is the guy with intelligent status updates, remember?)
I do not remember the last time I read something that resonated so deeply as this letter. It was nearly like God was speaking to me through a man who lived a century ago.
You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself…Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse…Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…
It was exquisite, beautiful writing. You know the feeling of being famished and a plate of amazing food is set down before you? And then you dig in and each bite is heaven… That’s what it felt like.
For the past year, I have been in a spiritual “limbo,” stuck in a dismal, lonely pit of a place. My dark night of the soul arrived without warning, with the sudden realization that a certain life-long belief had turned into a spiritual deal-breaker. It was an awful place to fall into, and it took me completely by surprise. I couldn’t figure out how to crawl back out. I kept it a secret for a very long time without telling even those closest to me. When I finally did open up about my God questions, I found out there were others just like me at GracePointe. They helped me find the courage to relax and be okay with living in this place for however long it took to find the way out. Or in…
So dear sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer… Then take the destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness without ever asking what reward might come from outside…
Late last night after reading Rilke’s letter, I laid awake in the dark while sudden clarity washed over me. The answers will not come from without, from the circumference of your life. You must look inside yourself, go to the Center.
In Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr suggests that, “We do not find our own center; it finds us… We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”
And so I shall.