An Old Nemesis Pokes Its Head Up

Dandelion clock Français : Fleur de pissenlit ...

Dandelion clock Français : Fleur de pissenlit en gros plan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been wrestling anxiety the last few days. The trigger is less important than the fact that it’s happening at all. One thing about juggling a writing career and four kids (and special needs advocacy, and NFP teaching, and choir leadership) is that there’s really not time for the kind of self-indulgent obsessing that leads to anxiety.

I’ve often felt the wispy edges of my old nemesis brush at my spirit, but a firm mental shove always seemed to make it retreat. Anxiety is manageable until you give it a foothold, and then, like a dandelion, it roots hard and fast and sprouts babies by the legion.

Last Sunday I spent three hours in the car with the little boys, headed for a family wedding. Nicholas had the portable DVD player for the first hour and a half, kept low enough for Michael to nap, and thus low enough that I could neither hear it nor turn on the radio or a CD.

How long has it been since you spent an hour and a half in quiet thought, with nothing but road to occupy you? I said a rosary and appreciated the peak colors flashing by, but mostly I made friends with the tender spot in my soul. Had conversations with the Holy Spirit.

A decade and a half ago, when terror beset me day and night for months on end, I learned that, given some quiet space, it is usually possible to quiet the brain or release the shackles on the heart–but not both at once. As I struggled in vain to do so, I came to believe that if I could ever achieve the complete stillness of spirit–peace in mind and heart simultaneously–that it would be a sign that I was healed. I never really reached that point.

Nor did I on Sunday. The festering rawness in my chest stubbornly resisted loosening its grip. And yet in the hollow spot at the core of all that worry, there was a cool stillness. Thomas Merton came back to me in those hours, his repeated reminders that the path to God most often traverses the rocky ground of spiritual sterility and aridity, of confusion and pain, rather than exalted mountaintop experiences.

And I realize that this rumbling of an old spiritual enemy is a gift–just as many of the most difficult things we face do in the end turn out to be gifts. Because facing it peels off all the layers of me-me-me’ing I slap down between me and the source of everything that is good about me. I think of a line from a song I never did finish writing: In my weakness, Your strength; in my shadow, Your glory.

5 thoughts on “An Old Nemesis Pokes Its Head Up

    • Sometimes I wonder what will happen when the kids do finally leave home…whether all that open space will launch me straight into all-out-war with something that’s been lying in wait until the time is ripe. Oh well, no sense borrowing trouble, right?

  1. Kyle

    This poem about intentionally going away to encounter one’s darkness and fears was particularly moving for me in the past couple of years.

    I go among trees and sit still.
    All my stirring becomes quiet
    around me like circles on water.
    My tasks lie in their places
    where I left them, asleep like cattle.

    Then what is afraid of me comes
    and lives a while in my sight.
    What it fears in me leaves me,
    and the fear of me leaves it.
    It sings, and I hear its song.

    Then what I am afraid of comes.
    I live for a while in its sight.
    What I fear in it leaves it,
    and the fear of it leaves me.
    It sings, and I hear its song.

    After days of labor,
    mute in my consternations,
    I hear my song at last,
    and I sing it. As we sing,
    the day turns, the trees move.
    – Wendell Berry

    For a beautiful choral setting of this piece, visit

    • Kyle

      I really should say “has been” moving, since I just listened to/read it again and was reminded of its power in calling me to silent contemplation and encouraging me to allow fears and anxieties to speak what they have…and then to become unafraid, having been taught by them.

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