Holy Ghosted: On Stepping Out From Shadows
I have a friend who has an expression I love: “I don’t believe in ghosts. But I don’t mess with no ghosts.” At the beginning of the season of waning light and waxing mysteries, I find myself reading more ghost stories, listening to the wisdom of mystery, keeping an ear to the ground for the unexpected and spooky. But when the rubber hits the road, I'm not going to go see It. I’m not going into any abandoned buildings at night, because, let’s be honest. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t mess with no ghosts.
Its gotten me thinking about other kinds of ghosts, ones that feel more present in our lives. The ghosts that fill empty rooms and hearts—ghosts of regret, longing, fear. The ghosts that linger in unswept corners of our imagination, ones that remind us of the mistakes we’ve made, of promises we’ve broken, of betrayals we’ve suffered. How do we exorcize those ghosts? The ones that have been hanging on for far too long, the ones that brush past us in moments of stillness, reminding us of our brokenness, our loneliness, or our pain?
There isn't just one path, but I'm finding myself return to certain practices again and again. Forgiveness is one—forgiveness of ourselves or others, forgiveness for the ways that things turned out. Or didn’t. I love a comment that Fr. Richard Rohr made during one of his daily devotionals. In it, he says that one of the fundamental practices of forgiveness comes first when we forgive reality for what it is. Forgive the world for being unfair. It is process work; not somewhere we arrive and then are complete. It’s a continued practice of seeing the world for what it is, brokenness and beauty, justice and injustice, hope and despair all contained in imperfect and insoluble ways. For me, the moments where I have felt betrayed most keenly, (by others or by myself), the first feeling I experience is a deep sense of unfairness. This person was not supposed to die. This job wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, this friendship or relationship wasn’t supposed to end like this. It’s not fair. What has helped me is beginning to forgive the world for being unfair. At the same time, it motivates me to do something about it, when I can.
Another way is presence—turning to face what is haunting us, even if just for a moment, begins to shed light on unexpressed or unacknowledged feelings, and gives them less power over us. When we look at and name the lingering hurt, the past trauma, the bitterness or anger or fear we feel toward ourselves or others, we finally can begin to do the work of healing. Sometimes, this should be done with a trusted therapist, someone who can help us return to the land of the living, when ghosts are deeply rooted trauma or abuse. Sometimes, it’s done through writing, or silence, or art. Sometimes, it’s done at the table of good friends or family. Whatever ways we travel, in my experience, ghosts don’t go away on their own.
What ghosts linger on in your life, creeping in at inopportune moments, affecting your life and decisions? What ghosts might you begin to face, to name, and to finally see?