There are times, as I know well, when the mind fills up with despair and one’s thoughts go dark, and I would speak of these things. I wish to speak of these things because through such speech may come some form of redemption, and any form of redemption would be welcome to me, any form at all. How lightly we speak of redemption, as if this were some small thing, something not to be concerned with overmuch. How easily we bandy the word about! Redemption is no small thing – it is everything, as I can now all too readily appreciate. In the absence of redemption, what is left to us? How are we to make do – in any manner or form – in the absence of redemption? What would our life consist of then?
There are times, as I have just said, when the mind fills up with despair right up to the very brim, and one’s thoughts grow frighteningly dark. I know these times, I know of them only too well. I would speak of these times, if I may, if that much is permitted to me. Perhaps there may be some slight solace in speaking of them, I think to myself, and perhaps this solace might eventually turn into redemption. Perhaps it might, I say to myself, perhaps it might. There are none who can appreciate redemption more than those who have no hope of it, those who do not even know what it means, and such are one am I. When there is nothing but shadow, what can we know of the light? What can the darkness tell us about light?
And yet even as I ask this question I come to understand something of the answer. Did not someone once say that a good question answers itself? Even as I ask the question some flicker of the answer comes to me. Perhaps the darkness can teach us more about the light than the light itself can? Perhaps the darkness is our greatest tutor in matters of the light? What the light can’t teach us about the light the shadow world can, this very shadow world that is created by the absence of light. ‘Who is your teacher’, they will ask me. ‘Failure, defeat and despair is my teacher,’ I shall reply, ‘and there is no tutor better.’ That’s what I shall say, and I shall have no shame in saying it. As tutors go, he is a very stern one, a forbiddingly stern one, but this only serves to underline the truth of his teachings. ‘Come and learn,’ he says to me, ‘come and learn at my hand…’
My basic orientation in life is fear – that’s one thing that I have learned. Look ahead of me each day and quake. I’m the Great Quaker, the one who quakes unceasingly. I dread the thought of whatever is to happen next – I am filled with such immense trepidation at the thought of future events, no matter what these events might turn out to be. There is no holding back the future, as they say. I feel the future to be my enemy inasmuch as it is bound to topple me from the perch to which I cling so desperately. It’s not as if my perch has got much going for it either. I have no great love for the perch that I am holding onto so tightly. I am clinging as desperately as I am because of my great fear of being toppled, not because of my love of the perch! My current situation is squalid in the extreme; it has nothing to recommend it whatsoever and I cordially despise it, but my contempt has in no way lessened the force of my clinging. No indeed – the contempt I feel for my perch does not in any degree lessen my clinging to it.
What does it mean when one’s basic orientation life is one of fear? What is this telling us? What is this telling me, more to the point? I don’t appreciate where I am except insofar as it offers me – as it does – some temporary respite from what is inevitably to come. I don’t appreciate where I am and I appreciate where I am going even less! I am constantly alert – painfully alert – to any new developments that may be threatening. Any development is going to spell bad news to me, no matter what it is. Anything at all is bad news as far as I’m concerned, but what kind of situation is this? Fear is easy enough to understand you see – it invariably gives rise to the very simple situation that I just described. It always produces the situation, as we all know well. It cannot produce any other. ‘Welcome to the house of fear!’ a sepulchral voice cries out. It’s a house that we all take up residence in so it’s as well to know it. Because it’s such a simple situation there is no escape from it – there never was an escape and there never will be. Fear drives out despair, and it is despair that is our teacher, as I have said. If fear drives out despair then how can redemption ever come to us? Redemption is the very thing we fear, after all…