Many years ago, the morning I said good-bye to my first husband, alone in my quiet house, I resolved I would no longer choke back my own voice. I made up my mind to become a different person. I didn’t know how to go about doing that, but I knew that before I could transform myself into something new, I needed to wake up all the way.
When you’re asleep, you often don’t know you’re asleep, you don’t know that you’re dreaming—and it came to me now that I had to become aware of all the ways I’d been asleep for most of my life.
The process of becoming emotionally and intellectually conscious isn’t easy. It’s a little like when a limb that’s been asleep regains feeling: it feels worse before it feels better. The transformation requires merciless honesty. Meanwhile, the road ahead is elusive. We stumble and fall. We think we have everything all figured out—and then we fall again.
I didn’t realize that emotional and intellectual awareness would bring spiritual awakening as well, that the processes were inextricably linked. As the weeks and months went by, however, I was increasingly caught up in a relentless process of spiritual transformation. The process made demands that were far from comfortable. It forced me to look at my own choices, at the life I had created for myself. It refused to be silent.
Gradually, in the months that followed, I became aware of something new (or perhaps it had been there all along?), a silent something that was nevertheless a voice within me, a part of my own being and yet something new. Or maybe it was more like a nudge, a gentle push urging me to walk further into the unknown. I found myself recalling the words of an old poem, “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him down the arches of the years;
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him.
I had been running a long time, I realized—and now I was exhausted. And yet I was still running. Now, though, I sensed, I was running toward something. I couldn’t map out the path ahead, but I felt that someone was there in the darkness with me, seeking me, calling to me with my own forgotten voice. As painful and uncertain as this time in my life was—I wasn't alone.
We all go through these startling, painful, wake-up times in our life, over and over. Just when we think we have everything figured out and life is "back to normal," some new crisis or change throws us out of equilibrium yet again. I believe we should perceive these periods in our lives as a Voice, calling to us from within our own selves with the voice of God, a Voice that's saying, "Wake up! Rise and shine! There's a new day out there!"
Perhaps those times when all that is familiar and secure seems most distant are really the very moments when we are drawing closer to our true Heart-Home.
In the words of the Sufi poet Hafiz:
What is this . . .
budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
of a soul waking up.
Leave the familiar for a while.
as you mount the hidden tide
and travel back home.
Marietta Bahri Della Penna is the author of Song of a Christian Sufi: A Spiritual Memoir, from which this post is adapted.