Diving Lessons

by Cheryl Ann Smith

When I was a child, I passed my beginner’s swimming test twice and decided to rest on my laurels. I was content to dog paddle to just beyond the shore and then lazily float on the water. No plunging into the deep end of the pool for me! But deep dives seem to be the way of the spiritual life.

My first dive came one week before I was to enter the Catholic Church. I awoke that morning with the thought, “I can’t join the Church: I have no understanding of the Pope or Our Lady. I can’t just use the Church to receive the Eucharist, which is what I really want”.

What ensued was a nightmare week of conflicting thoughts, feelings, doubts, what-ifs and yes-buts.

Finally, the night before my Profession of Faith, I cried to God in desperation: I had to have clarity! That’s when he taught me the discernment dive.

I sensed him calling me to dive under all the eddies of conflict and doubt. When I finally reached the depths, there was only one word: I want to be Catholic.

God gave me this desire; he knows what I don’t yet understand and he’ll have to help me. He did. When doubts later attacked, I could simply dismiss them, armed with the clarity of God’s will.

My second diving lesson was offered when I was living in a hermitage for a few months. I discovered that it’s one thing to be in silence and solitude for an hour or a day. But day after day? That was another matter.

I was just floating on the surface and not truly entering the silence. I didn’t know how.

This time God taught me the silence dive. Again, I had to plunge below my constantly nattering mind, emotional turmoil, and even my efforts to pray.

Initially, a refreshing stillness greeted me. But then I became aware of pockets of hurt, anger and fear that had been shoved there through the years. The price of diving to interior silence is confrontation with some of these unresolved areas. The silence dive then, can feel somewhat fraught with danger, but it’s the only way to true interior peace and integrity.

The final dive (thus far) was terrifying. I crashed into it at the nadir of my mid-life crisis, when any sense of certainty about vocation and faith was lying in shattered pieces at my feet. I had come to the end: I could not muster one more shred of faith or will power.

I was on a 30-day retreat, trying to salvage any scrap of my former life, and God just wasn’t cooperating. Finally, I lashed out and screamed, “I hate You!”

Time stopped. Then I heard a gentle voice asking, “Will you also leave?”, and I suddenly found myself at the foundation of my being.

How could I leave? God and I are already so united in the depths that we cannot be separated. His mercy and love unite us, whether I’m screaming in rebellion or resting on his heart.

This was the mercy dive, which brought me to a place of rest, of abiding in his all-encompassing merciful love. Who wants to float on the surface anymore?