Madonna House, Part I of III: Slow Burn

I was…one whose negative demands were more violent than his positive, far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my permission.
— C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy

Two days into my week at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, two things are continually on my mind. The first is the presence of Jesus, just out of sight, just over my shoulder. The second is the longing for death. So I guess you could say things are going pretty well.

If you are a habitually introspective person, your thoughts rarely surprise you. Outlandish, immoral, surreal, you’ve seen it all before: murder, radishes, bestiality, bellybuttons, whatever. Thoughts happen. So this longing for death doesn’t worry me.

When I say “longing for death” I don’t mean death per se is attractive. For example, I’m not sitting there thinking about pills or ropes or tall buildings. I’m not imagining my friends and family wailing over my pale, lifeless body and saying If only we had remembered to invite him to more parties then he would not have drowned himself in the river, and now all is sorrow, sorrow forever. That’s not it at all.

I also don’t mean that I’m unhappy or in pain. When I was depressed in college, that’s what longing for death meant: I hurt so bad, and couldn’t imagine any possible future where I would stop hurting or even start to hurt less, so I wanted to be dead.

This is very different. For one thing, I am happy, almost painfully so. The tall pines around Our Lady Of the Woods, the still-chilly spring, the easy camaraderie of the other guests, the clean fibrous vegetables and fresh cheese and warm bread. The cry of the loon, the symphony of bugs and frogs, the gentle Madawaska River.

But always this slow burn in the pit of my stomach, not painful, just there. It’s a continual posing of the question: When will all this be over?

What else do you call that but longing for death?

[To be continued on Tuesday]

7 Comments on “Madonna House, Part I of III: Slow Burn”

  1. Patty says:

    Despite some pretty interesting trials that show no sign of miraculously disappearing or resolving themselves I, too, am a very happy, contented person. I see God in my daily life. I walk and talk with Him more than ever, but that means that I long to be in His physical presence more than ever. Maybe instead of “when will all this be over,” it’s more like “when will this all be over so that I’m standing/sitting/kneeling/be-ing in the physical presence of the One who loves me perfectly.” At least that’s how it feels to me.

  2. Gabriel says:

    I deal with both longing for death (in the sense you speak of here) and long-standing depression, but I don’t think I’ve observed any correlation between the two. The heart is weird.

  3. richard says:

    This is good writing and the Madonna House is an admirable apostolate.

  4. Teresa says:

    You could call it a longing for death into eternal life…and we all have that even if we are unaware of what it is.

    You are a great writer by the way. Brave and intrepid. I’m hooked.

  5. Clare says:

    I have visited Madonna House many times — their spirituality, that is, the spirituality of Catherine Doherty, has been one of the biggest and deepest influences on my own spiritual life. Madonna House has a way of sanctifying every moment of your life so that you can’t help but long for the day when the “nitty-gritty” of this life is over, and your experience of being face-to-face with God is so present that you no longer have to struggle to attain it. I have experienced some of the most beautiful moments of my life in Combermere and look forward to reading the next two parts of your post.

  6. Carolina says:

    Combermere, eh? Lucky you! I have family in Barry’s Bay – such a lovely area.

  7. Albert says:

    Hugs Joey. I hope i’ll meet you someday, and soon. 🙂

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